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AF Academy, Air Education and Training Command host technology-infused basic aviation skills training

Story and photos by Jennifer Spradlin, July 8, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Colorado Springs high school students and recent Air Force Academy graduates are flying together — in the classroom — thanks to training devices that simulate the T-6 Texan II training aircraft.

The Academy is hosting summer training sessions in partnership with Air Education and Training Command to explore the benefits of exposing students to basic aviation skills using virtual reality technology.

“Advances in technology have led us to really consider how we train potential pilots — is there a better way? We think there is huge value in using these simulators to access realistic training scenarios sooner and more often than we have done in the past, said Capt. Joshua Thomson, a Pilot Training Next instructor, based at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Thomson is assisting Academy instructors during the summer sessions.

“When I went to pilot training in 2011, we would have a poster on the wall, and we would sit in front of the poster at night, and we would chair fly,” Thomson said. “Staring at the poster, we would say ‘I am going to do this, and then I am going to do this at this time.’ These simulators are like really fancy chair flying, which allows [students] to develop really good memorization skills, optimizing rehearsal and providing more realistic rehearsal and preparation.”

High school students were included in the summer session as a community outreach effort to inspire local youth to pursue aviation and STEM-related fields.

Summer session students use technology to repeatedly perform a series of specific tasks, such as takeoffs, landings and flying in patterns, prior to ever using them in the air. Like students in the actual PTN program, the participants can work on these skills at their own pace without concern for weather or fuel consumption.

“I am just hoping to learn how to fly as much as possible prior to flight training, if I’m selected,” said Cadet 1st Class Cade Cavanagh. “In this course, we start in the sky and focus on how to make the plane fly with no other airplanes around, no other radio calls — concentrating on one thing at a time. It’s a much more efficient way to train than you would be able to in a regular aircraft.”

The Academy recently modernized its four-year Airmanship Program to inspire cadets towards rated careers and ensure graduates awarded rated assignments possess the qualities necessary to excel in undergraduate pilot training.

“The program works in conjunction with live flight training at the Academy’s airfield while also providing character and leadership building experiences that educates all cadets on Airmanship fundamentals,” said Col. John Garver, the Academy’s operations and analysis director

This pre-commissioning training model integrates with current PTN efforts, providing an accelerated path for Academy cadets to move into Air Force operational units.

[Editor’s note: Pilot Training Next is part of AETC’s initiative to “re-imagine” how learning is delivered to Airmen, focused on how Airmen learn and using emerging technology to train them better and faster and foster deeper learning.

The technology used includes virtual reality, artificial intelligence and data analytics, which can be tailored to the training environment and individual student. The PTN offers students the opportunity to learn in a collaborative, learner-centric environment, in line with AETC’s redesigned Continuum of Learning model.]

More PTN photos by Jennifer Spradlin