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Virtual Reality reduces fuel emissions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Saomy Sabournin
  • Airman Magazine

The Air Force uses virtual reality as a significant tool for training simulations, decision-making abilities, and operational readiness because VR offers immersive and realistic experiences. Incorporating VR technologies into Air Force training programs is a key responsibility of the Air Education and Training Command.

AETC recognizes the revolutionary potential of virtual reality technology in developing abilities, knowledge and situational awareness while also positively impacting the environment and contributing to climate change mitigation in several ways. By investing in cutting-edge VR technology, AETC has adopted a forward-thinking strategy to maximize training efficacy and efficiency. Utilizing VR, AETC hopes to improve the educational experience, lower training expenses and hasten skill acquisition for Airmen in a variety of occupational disciplines, both in terms of aircraft operations and base facilities. This includes teaching pilots and ground crews how to optimize fuel consumption and reduce emissions during flight and maintenance. VR-based training can also educate personnel on energy-efficient building management and infrastructure.

“Virtual reality is a potential game-changer for logistics and maintenance training. We’ve found in multiple test cases that giving Airmen multiple ‘reps and sets’ in a virtual world not only builds technical competency but also confidence,” said Brig. Gen. George T.M. Dietrich III, 82nd Training Wing commander. “So much so that when they do get that irreplaceable real-world, hands-on experience, they are demonstrating mastery of the task much more quickly — often on the first attempt.”

The Air Force conducts a significant amount of training and operations that involve air travel. Flight simulators have allowed pilots to practice their skills in a controlled environment. Due to the immersive nature of VR, aviation simulations have reached new heights. By incorporating VR into training programs, particularly for simulations and classroom instruction, the need for physical flights is reduced. This not only saves on aviation fuel but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with training sorties.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew experiences an MC-130J Commando II virtual reality maintenance training program during an Air Education and Training Command Integrated Technology Platform demonstration April 15, 2021, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. ITP team members from around the Air Force showed event attendees how VR training programs have already benefitted other squadrons and are ready for rapid acquisition and assimilation into current aircraft maintenance operations. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft/photo manipulated for operational security)

AETC uses VR to accurately replicate the cockpit environment, enabling trainees to familiarize themselves with different aircraft models, instruments and flight dynamics. The success of a mission depends on the pilot’s ability to build critical muscle memory, decision-making skills, and spatial awareness. VR can also provide realistic training scenarios for pilots and aircrews to practice fuel-efficient flying techniques. This not only reduces fuel consumption but also extends the operational range of aircraft.

Beyond flight training, virtual reality has proven beneficial for increasing ground staff training in maintenance and repair. With the use of VR technologies that AETC has put in place, airmen can realistically practice troubleshooting, repairs, and component replacements. This approach reduces reliance on physical equipment and minimizes the risk of damage during training. Furthermore, VR-based training modules can be accessed remotely, allowing Airmen to train on demand and at their own pace, significantly increasing flexibility and efficiency.

“VR offers the advantage of higher levels of repetition compared to hands-on training. In the 362nd (TRS), we have limited aircraft trainers and instructors, so using VR allows our Airmen to practice beyond these constraints,” said Master Sgt. Jared Rice, 362nd Training Squadron innovation lead. “For instance, while one instructor works with a small group of students on a progress check or hands-on practice, the remaining students can practice safely in the VR environment without needing direct instructor supervision. Moreover, since the Airmen are issued VR headsets and tablets, they can further enhance their skills by practicing during their study time outside the classroom.”

Photo by Senior Airman Jayden Ford
An Airman from the 19th Maintenance Squadron tests new virtual reality corrosion control capabilities at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Aug. 11, 2022. The push for the virtual reality training helps reduce the costs and risks associated with Airmen using real paint and tools. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jayden Ford)

AETC’s vision for VR integration has paved the way for a more efficient, cost-effective, and realistic training experience, ultimately leading to increased operational readiness and mission success.

“The next challenge is scaling up from these test cases to all 65,000 students the 82nd (TS) trains every year. As you can imagine, that's a significant investment, and we are working closely with Air Education and Training Command and 2nd Air Force to make that happen,” Dietrich said.

The Air Force and AETC are ensuring Airmen are equipped with the knowledge, experience and missions they need to protect the nation and its interests by leveraging the power of virtual reality. With VR, Airmen can hone their skills, develop critical competencies, and adapt to ever-changing demands by using virtual reality as a key component of Air Force training to prepare for the high-end competition.