C-130H radio training program becomes virtual reality

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Roles
  • 189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

On Sept. 24, 2019, Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Crider, an AFWERX Air National Guard Innovation team member along with Maj. Tom Guilebeau, the 189th Airlift Wing innovation officer and Maj. Justin Fitzpatrick, a 189th Operations Group navigator, presented the first phase of a virtual reality training program wing leadership, marking a significant stride in the future training of C130H aviation for the 89th AW. The team shared their progress with Col. Dean Martin, 189th AW commander, after finalizing the first phase of the project made possible by use of innovation funds throughout the Air National Guard.

The project is designed to teach pilots the proper techniques for storing and securely transferring radio codes, which are classified data during flight missions. The training program will potentially allow student pilots to practice efficiently loading radio codes before they arrive at the aircraft, allowing them to spend more time flying and less time on the ground loading radios. The secured radios are used to communicate with allied forces during combat missions as well as with users on the ground, coordinating movements such as air drops.

“The whole traditional process is displaced and not user friendly,” explained Guillebeau. “They have to have the radios on, you have to make sure the remote control heads are talking to the radios in the back. There are numerous parameters of this and it takes about an hour per person to accomplish training and be signed off on the task. With an average class size of three to four people, it would take five hours to train each individual. This training will greatly reduce the ground time and give us more flying training.”

The virtual headset and haptic glove will allow the user to see, touch and eventually feel what they are doing. Using the haptic gloves, the end goal is to allow the user to feel the switches and any movement that occurs in the real world, in the virtual world. The haptic sensory concept takes any virtual reality and puts pressure on the user’s skin, allowing you to feel what you are doing in addition to visuals. The team will be upgrading the current haptic gloves used with new ones within the next three months for new, improved versions of the current.

“This is completely different than using a simulator,” said Fitzpatrick. “This takes out the simulator and allows us to be in any room doing our training with a camera and goggles. We’re at the front of the pack as far as VR goes. There will be far more competent pilots coming out of the pipeline because they can sit in the room and practice this 100 times a day if they want.”

While many wing are currently incorporating virtual reality into training programs, the 189th AW is currently the only wing in the Air National Guard that is working toward training with this prototype. The completion time for the project is projected to be May or June of 2020.