Training in a different reality

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen
  • 47th Flying Training Wing

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- With the rapid advancement of technology, U.S. Air Force undergraduate pilot training has grown to match the pace. Airmen are learning at a faster rate and gaining better skills with the continual improvements to the training program.  

One of the many tools Airmen augment their learning with is virtual reality.  

“Students use VR fairly often,” said 1st Lt. Ridge Jones, 85th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “Especially early on, [instructor pilots] will give students a homework assignment to go ahead and practice ‘X’ maneuver ten times, so that way they get practice in, and they can see it more times than they might get in a plane ride. In a plane ride, they might get to see it one or two times.” 

Student pilots at Laughlin have multiple locations where their training skills can be honed within a virtual space. These areas range from individual VR units within classrooms, to a dedicated VR building which allows students to link up to 12 units together in order to practice formation flying. 

“Early on in training, it's very useful.” Capt. Rod Walker, 47th Student Squadron student pilot, commented. “It helps you get familiar with the procedures. I was surprised at how easy the transition was from VR to the actual aircraft.”  

These VR units help pilots train on fundamentals of the T-6 Texan II, such as cockpit layout familiarization, communications between aircraft during flight, and identifying position and heading.  

“VR is good for ground references, it also helps with pattern work.” said 2nd Lt. Christian Lobiondo, 85th Flying Training Squadron student pilot. “It's pretty similar to being in a T-6; the visual references are pretty similar,”  

Thanks to the familiarity VR provides to new students, instructors can rapidly transition through pilot training. Students are now able to go from their dollar ride, their very first flight with their instructor pilot, to their first solo flight in as little as a week if their skills are proven proficient enough in the aircraft.  

This also allows the Air Force to save money. Compared to the average of 547 dollars per flight hour of the T-6, VR takes little more to run than the cost of electricity to power the computer its running on.  

New and improved technology continues to change and shape our world, and pilot training is no exception to this rule. Thanks to the continuous evolution of pilot training, Laughlin is able to keep its tradition of producing the best pilots in the world.