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C-130H radio training program becomes virtual reality

Members of AFWERX and the 189th Airlift Wing Innovation Team watch as Col. Dean Martin, 189th AW commander, tests the virtual reality headset and haptic glove designed to streamline training. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master. Sgt. Jessica Roles)

Members of AFWERX and the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing Innovation Team watch as Col. Dean Martin, 189th AW commander, tests the virtual reality headset and haptic glove designed to streamline training. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master. Sgt. Jessica Roles)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Virtual reality technology is showing promise in helping C-130H pilots more efficiently store and transfer radio codes so they can spend more time flying.

On Sept. 24, Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Crider, an AFWERX Air National Guard Innovation team member, Maj. Tom Guilebeau, the 189th Airlift Wing innovation officer, and Maj. Justin Fitzpatrick, a 189th Operations Group navigator, presented the first phase of the virtual reality training program for C-130H aviation.

They shared their progress with Col. Dean Martin, 189th AW commander, after finalizing the first phase of the project made possible by innovation funds throughout the Air National Guard.

The project is designed to teach pilots proper techniques for storing and securely transferring radio codes, which are classified during flight missions. The training program will potentially allow student pilots to practice efficiently loading radio codes before they arrive at the aircraft, allowing them to spend more time flying and less time on the ground loading radios. The secured radios are used to communicate with allied forces during combat missions and with users on the ground, coordinating movements such as airdrops.

“The whole traditional process is displaced and not user-friendly,” explained Guillebeau. “They have to have the radios on. You have to make sure the remote control heads are talking to the radios in the back. There are numerous parameters of this, and it takes about an hour per person to accomplish training and be signed off on the task. With an average class size of three to four people, it would take five hours to train each individual. This training will greatly reduce the ground time and give us more flying training.”

The virtual headset and haptic glove will allow the user to see, touch and eventually feel what they are doing. The goal: to feel in the virtual world the switches and movement that occurs in the real world. The haptic gloves will be upgraded within three months.

“This is completely different than using a simulator,” said Fitzpatrick. “This takes out the simulator and allows us to be in any room doing our training with a camera and goggles. We’re at the front of the pack as far as VR goes. There will be far more competent pilots coming out of the pipeline because they can sit in the room and practice this 100 times a day if they want.”

While many wings are incorporating virtual reality into training, the 189th AW is the only wing in the Air National Guard that is working toward training with this prototype. The project is expected to be completed by June 2020.

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