ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
While continuing to train the nation's next generation of C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46 Pegasus pilots, the 97th Operations Group has begun to enhance their training in a unique, yet modern way.
By using emerging technology combined with the new standards for pilot training, the 97th OG has created the Virtual/Enhanced Reality Training, Innovation and Generation Office program for pilot training.
The VERTIGO program’s mission is to innovate aircrew training for aviators across the three weapons systems within the 97th OG. The program’s objectives are to increase student capability through immersive training, leverage mobile and data driven instruction for customized training and to deliver a better aviator, faster.
“This new training medium will allow students to comprehend pilot training concepts at a higher velocity than traditional mediums such as assigned reading, classroom lectures and computer based training,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James King, the 97th OG VERTIGO section chief. “Students will have unparalleled access to this new immersive medium. This is especially crucial given current events and a higher need to allow remote learning in a structured way.”
While utilizing the VERTIGO program, student pilots at Altus will receive the opportunity to complete part of their training with a VR headset, allowing for a more interactive and hands on learning experience.
King explains that as soon as a student puts on the VR headset, they are transported to the cockpit of a C-17, KC-135, or a KC-135 boom operator pod. He explains how the imagery used in the VR program was filmed on the aircraft assigned at Altus, making the VR experience identical to the real thing.
“Students will see exactly what instructors often spend countless hours working with them on. [For example,] showing a student a particular visual reference or advanced refueling concepts are displayed within seconds,” said King. “The best part, they can view this as often as they need to, when they need to. The student doesn’t even need to leave their lodging accommodations.”
The idea for the VERTIGO program began after the 97th OG received the opportunity to experience first-hand the Pilot Training Next program used across the Air Force. Using fundamentals from PTN combined with advanced VR programming, the vision of VERTIGO was created.
“While PTN has shown promise and success for pilot training, there was not a road map established yet to bring VR/immersive training experiences to the Formal Training Units like the one at Altus,” said King. “Some of the best instructor cadre from the squadrons table-topped the script to ensure both the safety and success of capturing of these training concepts.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert Buckley, the 97th Training Squadron director of operations, explained how in order to acquire the proper training equipment, the 97th OG partnered with AFWERX, a community of Air Force innovators who strive to connect Airmen to solutions across the force.
AFWERX then contracted an immersive technology company, Specular Theory, to assist with the creation of an interactive VR pilot training experience. Buckley explained how the AFWERX team was incredibly helpful during the process and have been an amazing partner.
“When you put on the VR headset you are immediately sitting in the left seat of the C-17or KC-135,” said Buckley. “This immersion gives students a sense of realism [from inside the aircraft] that can be really hard to replicate. And this training doesn't just apply to pilots, it can be used by future mobility aviators nationwide.”