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Airmen gauge fear of heights in virtual simulation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – “Back to the Future II” is just one of many movies or other media that attempted to predict future technology such as real hover boards, self-lacing shoes, flying cars and retractable coat sleeves.

It’s safe to say the prognosticators were quite wrong on those futuristic gadgets – except for one thing. Virtual worlds and holodecks seem to be looking like it could actually be a reality and could help the Air Force in more ways than one.

On Jan. 26, 366th Training Squadron electrical systems apprentice trainees were offered, while some were chosen, to take part in a little demonstration to help find out if virtual reality is the future of training here on Sheppard Air Force Base and maybe the whole Air Force.

The demonstration was held in the 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs Digital Design Lab and featured what some would say is an unusual and innovative take on training. Students were brought one by one into the lab, where they donned a VR headset and stepped into a simulation – a nightmare for people scared of heights.

The results were conclusive, though, on both sides. Instructor and trainee.

“It was interesting to see how this plays out,” said Tech. Sgt. David Harris, an electrical systems instructor at the demo.

He said instructors came to compare it to how the students would normally react when actually getting them up there on the poles. It’s pretty close.

Master Sgt. Matthew Wells, 364th Training Squadron Telecommunications flight chief, said most electrical systems apprentice students go about three weeks or 30 days without getting the mental check of being up so high, which is an important aspect of their high-wire jobs. With this system, instructors actually got an initial assessment to see which trainees would handle the training easier while noting the ones that could have issues later on.

While the instructors came to the conclusion that they could see virtual reality training implemented in the future, the trainees came up with their own results, which were similar to their instructors.

Many trainees who went through the demonstration were queried after returning to the “real world.” Many agreed that if they were exposed to this kind of “stress test” earlier in their training, it would benefit them immensely, especially with getting in the right mindset for what is expected of them and save the time for those who would train for 48 days or so and then have to reclass because the heights are too much for them.

Most of the trainees were also part of a class who was graduating soon, and they said this could be helpful for any blocks of training.

Overall, everyone involved seemed to enjoy the experience, be it the trainees with sweaty palms or the instructors filming the events for “training purposes.”

The VR capabilities are not at their full potential yet, but the possibilities are endless.

“All you need is a desk and a chair,” said James Rumfelt, a member of the DDL. “You can put a combat medic with a CPR dummy in front of him then have bullets flying past. You can be dropping mortars. You can go insane with all of these.”

With this first demo appearing to be a success, the possibilities are endless with the right amount of funding and backing. Rumfelt said this could revolutionize training in general and not just here on Sheppard.

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