DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Aircraft maintenance. Purists may argue that nothing can replace real-world, hands-on learning. Some may say that virtual reality, or VR, platforms are simply video games. But for Airmen at Dyess Air Force Base, TX, VR technology is transforming the way C-130J Super Hercules aircraft maintainers are learning and perfecting their craft.
Two maintainers in particular have led the initiative to make the 317th Maintenance Group’s Virtual Reality Lab an immersive, realistic, and effective training environment. Since 2018, 317th MXG instructors Tech. Sgt. Timothy Hogge and Staff Sgt. Christopher Clinton have done everything from work with civilian software developers to write course curriculum to make the lab a success.
Now, Dyess’ C-130 VR room is the largest in Air Mobility Command.
“This effort started from the ground up, and now we are working with two major commands and have a VR room with its own unique and innovative design,” said Hogge.
The Virtual Reality Lab boasts 16 training stations and an adjacent classroom. However, the most impressive thing about the facility isn’t necessarily its high-tech equipment. According to the 317th MXG, virtual training is useless without a learning curriculum. With this in mind, Hogge and Clinton created an orientation and familiarization training program to make the VR lab truly effective.
The training team’s curriculum, combined with innovative VR technologies, create a space where maintenance Airmen can train and qualify on mission-essential tasks.
“One of the more impressive aspects of the lab is the direct feedback capability our instructors can use,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Cooney, 317th MXG maintenance operations flight superintendent. “This feature measures students’ performance and learning based on how fast they can understand key concepts.”
The 317th MXG plans to train 250 maintainers each year using the new Virtual Reality Lab. Training in a VR setting provides unique benefits that more traditional locations can’t. For example, it provides Airmen a controlled learning environment. This means no extreme temperatures, which is an invaluable feature in West Texas. Additionally, it allows maintainers to maintain task proficiency without impacting aircraft availability, which in turn increases how quickly maintainers can be trained. One student of the VR lab, Airman 1st Class David Farrell, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hydraulic systems apprentice, described his experience with virtual reality training.
“The course feels real. This training doesn’t compromise the experience of being on a C-130,” said Farrell. “Learning is in a distraction-free environment.” The 317th MXG Virtual Reality Lab continues to evolve. Starting July, they’ll begin using computer software that allows maintenance students to immerse themselves in the intricacies of the Rolls Royce engines that power the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. Whether it’s new software or improved curriculum, the VR lab’s team continues to find ways to make virtual training effective for 317th Airlift Wing maintainers.
“From the onset of this initiative, we challenged our Maintenance Qualification Training Program team to advance VR from an innovative hobby to a forum our Airmen want to learn in,” said Col. Don Vandenbussche, 317th MXG commander.
The 317th AW’s Virtual Reality Lab is part of an ongoing Air Force effort to create virtual and augmented-reality training capabilities for the aircraft maintenance and career enlisted aviator communities, as explained here.