Two training squadrons at JBSA-Randolph, Texas, have begun an experimental program to use commercially available monitors and simulators which incorporate virtual reality and other advanced technology to train pilot instructors more economically and effectively than had been done in the past.
The Pilot Instructor Next program, initiated in May by the 99th and 560th Flying Training Squadrons, uses a combination of virtual-reality goggles and simulators—along with actual flying—to help do what is projected to be a better job of training T-1 and T-38 instructor pilots.
According to Lt. Col. Justin Chandler, commander of the 99th, the technology involved ranges in cost from $250 to several thousand dollars, but he said the capabilities are “very close” to that of conventional multimillion-dollar simulators.
Chandler and Lt. Col. Matt Strohmeyer, commander of the 560th, discussed the effort with Air Force Magazine on Tuesday next to their display at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference near Washington, D.C.
Strohmeyer said one spur for the program was that the training programs were not at the level they needed to be. Because of the pilot shortage, some of the pilots training to be T-38 instructors were not fighter pilots, as was the case in the past, but were mobility force pilots. A major issue, he said, was getting these prospective instructors to the same level of instructional proficiency as had been the case when the students were fighter pilots.
Now, he said, because of the new technology, students fly a T-1 or T-38, “several times in a virtual environment” before their first actually flight.
Using these tools, Chandler said, given their low cost, allows the squadrons to have many more systems, and the 24/7 availability means students can get as much time as they need doing repetitions.
For example, Strohmeyer said, previously a graduate would have seen one of the critical tasks they learn—such as flying an overhead traffic pattern—maybe 15 or 20 times. Now, under this program, they would see it “hundreds of times.”
Another AETC program, aimed at training novice pilots rather than pilot instructors, preceded the instructor training program. That earlier program, the Pilot Training Next program, began in January and last month graduated its first 13 officers. The instructor training program, which now has about 30 students, is similar and applied what was used to their slightly different mission. Strohmeyer said the program graduated its first student about two weeks ago and another three are expected to graduate in coming weeks.