SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – “Innovation” has been a buzzword in the Air Force training circles for quite some time, and it doesn’t appear to be changing as the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Steering Committee is committed to deploying new technologies in its pilot training curriculum.
The 77th meeting of the ENJJPT Steering Committee, which is the governing body of the world’s only internationally manned and operated pilot training program, was held at Sheppard AFB March 11-15 to give representatives from partner nations an opportunity to discuss the physical and financial health of the 55-week long program. The committee also took a look at the course syllabus and any possible changes that need to be made, such as employing tools like virtual and mixed realities.
Brig. Gen. Andi Hoppe, the new chairman of the steering committee and the director of flying operations for the German air force, said he is impressed with the implementation of new training platforms in the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Innovation Lab to broaden the learning experience of student pilots. He said providing opportunities for students to hone skills on the ground before stepping into an aircraft will enhance the process of creating combat pilots for NATO.
“This is to gain more capability through better efficiency so we train students better,” he said. “We just started thinking about these things and implementing a test class to try it out. My aim would be to foster this process in the upcoming years so that we get more efficiency out of the program and more capability.”
Col. Russell Driggers, commander of the 80th FTW, said efforts at ENJJPT’s host unit are going beyond PowerPoint slides and lectures to put student pilots in virtual simulators that provide an opportunity to learn in an immersive environment. Because of where the 80th FTW is in researching, purchasing and using the training platforms, they are able to share that in an international setting with NATO partners.
One of the exciting aspects of virtual and mixed realities in the training environment, he said, is seeing students start to think, “What can I do with this?” That’s the creative energy they are wanting to bring to 21st century pilot training.
Like Hoppe, Driggers said the marriage of the existing pilot training syllabus with virtual platforms will be tested in small groups initially.
“We have a test-case syllabus where we’re deploying a lot of these new technologies and a lot of new thinking about how to arrange our training to try and shorten the timeline between from when someone enters the program to when we put wings on their chest later,” he said. “We’re implementing that and we’re expecting approval of that small-group tryout.”
Driggers said another topic of discussion is one that each partner nation is trying to overcome – a pilot shortage. The U.S. Air Force has been combating a shortage in pilots for several years and continues to look for ways to narrow the gap between the number in service today and what is needed tomorrow. That means increasing the capacity of the program to include more students in the pipeline.
He said the group talked about when more students can be added to the program and by how many. Innovation within the wing will play a role, he said, as they look at how long it takes students to reach certain benchmarks while improving the quality of the end product.
While much attention is given to the syllabus, innovation and participation, Hoppe said the multinational makeup of the program should not be overlooked, a characteristic he called the “highest value.”
“In 2012, I was in Afghanistan for half a year commanding a German air force unit and right beside me there was a Dutch unit,” the 1990 ENJJPT Class 90-08 graduate said. “The commanding officer of the Dutch unit I knew from pilot training here. It makes things a lot easier. That is the value that we should never give away.”
Hoppe said as steering committee chairman, his long-term goal is to strengthen and ensure NATO pilot training continues in North Texas beyond the existing memorandum of understanding. As the program gains more capabilities, opportunities to include more NATO partners will present itself and further grow the multinational aspect of ENJJPT.
Just as training with partner nations is an invaluable experience, so, too, is the hospitality and friendships developed during their stay here.
“We really feel a true warm welcome when we come here,” he said. “The students, the instructors, the families that (come) here, wherever you go and everybody sees you’re part of the NATO program here, everybody … looks at you as a friend here in Wichita Falls, and this is really something you feel, which you don’t feel anywhere else on the planet.”
The next meeting of the ENJJPT Steering Committee will be in Spain in the fall.