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Virtual Reality maintenance shift: A new era for Air Force training in Middletown

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bela Vaszlavik
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

MIDDLETOWN, Pa.-- Virtual reality (VR) maintenance training has officially arrived here and is set to begin instructing Airmen on MC-130J Commando II maintenance.

“Right now, it's mostly avionics and crew chief tasks.” stated Technical Sgt. Anthony Gambone, 193rd Special Operation Wing VR program leader. “Some of the other shops have come in to do aircraft familiarization with some of their newer Airmen before they go off to the flightline.”

This cutting-edge technology is projected to do several things such as save money, time, and enhance safety according to 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Group commander, Col. Jaime Ramirez.

“VR enables our world-class maintainers to continue to push the innovation football forward. They gain a better understanding of maintenance tasks and operations equipping them with more confidence and capability to perform maintenance on a live aircraft.”

Without VR maintenance training, Airmen would have to wait for one of their aircraft to be in maintenance status to train. When this happens, the aircraft must be ready for use as soon as possible, limiting the time available to train. Having a VR aircraft makes it so there’s always an “aircraft” available to train on.

“Lacking familiarity with specific maintenance tasks extends the time required for aircraft repairs, resulting in the aircraft grounded for longer,” Gambone said.

With VR training, tasks can be conducted during non-maintenance periods, eliminating concerns about prolonging an aircraft down time. This approach ensures that airmen gain exposure to various tasks without having to rely on waiting for an aircraft.

“The big takeaway from this is safety, with a more controlled and structured training environment, resulting in saving money and time.” Gambone stated. “The cost savings from fuel, parts and man hours will make it pay for itself.”

The use of VR technology may help save the Air National Guard hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly through decreased maintenance times and improved safety conditions. This enables more duty-ready airmen, enhancing proficiency in aircraft maintenance and faster availability.

“Being able to see it, visualize it, crawl around in it without any issues is highly beneficial.” stated Gambone. “There's no skipping steps, which forms good habits, because it shows you how to do each step in the process.”

The VR program even has room for expansion with the flexibility to incorporate new maintenance tasks as they become available.

“I do envision it getting better.” stated Gambone. “It's just a matter of time when it comes down to it.”

The 193 SOMXG has the capability to expand VR maintenance support to not only the MC-130J but other military aircraft as well. This would enable the 193 SOW to play a crucial role in bolstering the readiness of other flying units across the Department of Defense.

“With this program we could get different aircraft from C-17 to F-15.” Gambone stated “If I wanted to and I had access I could do an engine change on an F-15.”

Gambone says the program here is now fully operational with the ability to train seven Airmen simultaneously. Since launching, roughly 40 Airmen have used the VR training. Ramirez aims to have the entire 193 SOMXG employing the system soon.

“We’ve always had the right Airmen to push aircraft maintenance into the future,” stated Ramirez. “Now we have the technology to do it right here in Middletown.”