LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- The shift toward embracing virtual reality as a core training method took another step forward, Jan. 8, with the official opening of Little Rock Air Force Base’s Virtual Reality Maintenance Center.
In total, the installation now boasts 10 VR training stations that will afford maintenance Airmen the ability to become more proficient on mission-essential tasks; all within a controlled environment.
Since the initial push to implement the VR center in early 2020, Little Rock and Dyess Air Force Base instructors and training developers have been working with software manufactures from Mass Virtual to validate and certify tasks within the program.
Although direct training on the C-130J Super Hercules airframe still remains a foundational component to overall upgrade training (UGT), instructors here said the features enabled by VR go far beyond what can be accomplished in the physical world.
“It’s pretty unlimited to what tasks we can complete in VR,” said Master Sgt. Nick Massingill, 19th Maintenance Group development and instruction section chief. “Currently we have fully immersive interactive maintenance tasks as well as some “glassaway” theory of operation tasks.”
The term glassaway is used to describe the ability to look through the skin of the aircraft to see how fluids, electricity, environmental systems, and other internal systems flow through the aircraft and interact with their respective components.
Simply stated, it allows for an immersive 3D view of the systems of the aircraft in order to facilitate a visual understanding of how the systems operate and connect to one another.
Moreover, routine tasks such as powering on and off the aircraft, auxiliary power units (APU) operations as well as landing gear and brake removal and installation can now be accomplished an unlimited number of times without ever taking an aircraft away from its operational mission.
“Not only does it allow students to learn the tasks without the risk of damaging an aircraft or getting hurt, but it also reduces aircraft downtime for students to train on,” Massingill said. “The idea is that a student can learn and complete a task in VR as many times as they want, allowing them to gain that muscle memory and builds confidence. This, in turn, reduces the amount of time on the aircraft for training.”
Students and those in UGT still must certify their training tasks on the actual aircraft to be certified.
LRAFB is the host installation for the Air Force’s largest fleet of C-130J aircraft in the world. Additionally, the 314th Airlift Wing is home to the C-130J maintenance schoolhouse. As such, LRAFB functioned as a key conduit to roll-out the VR training curriculum across the C-130 enterprise.
“This has been a really great collaborative partnership with wings across the globe,” said Master Sgt. Gary Armstrong, 19th Maintenance Group training management section chief. “While we have the trainers [here at Little Rock AFB] and facilities to help maintainers grow their knowledge on the plane, most units do not, and the entire community was looking for a better way to train their Airmen.”
Armstrong also said that a significant benefit of the technology is the seamless ability to update the VR software with new tasks and training modules.
“Additional software continues to be developed by Mass Virtual, such as putting a C-130J on jack stands, which allows for any organization who has the VR equipment to train Airmen with this hands-on skill without putting a risk to the mission,” Armstrong said.
Now that the VR Maintenance Center has officially opened, instructors are working toward developing lesson plans for classroom-type learning, all in VR.
“We are currently working on getting our VR courses incorporated into our Maintenance Qualification Training Program (MQTP) curriculum and plan to have that completed early this year,” Massingill said. “Additionally, we look forward to having the other bases teaming up with us here [at LRAFB] and Dyess AFB to increase combat airlift capabilities.”