Second Lt. Matthew Demarco, 14th Student Squadron student pilot, operates the virtual reality flight simulation equipment while Lt. Col. Christopher Harris, 41st Flying Training Squadron chief pilot and director of innovation flight, instructs him Feb. 11, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.

Jan 13 2021

Air Force, Google Strike Agreement to Modernize Flight Training

The service branch will use Google’s cloud offerings to improve flight simulations for airmen.

The Air Force has invested in virtual reality platforms in recent years to train pilots, and now is taking another leap forward in how it uses technology to prepare airmen to fly in actual, multimillion-dollar aircraft.

In December, the Air Force, along with the Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit, announced an agreement with Google Cloud to modernize aspects of flight training via the use of cloud-based tools.

The goal of the program, called the Joint Immersive Training System (JITS), is to accelerate initial flight training of airmen using commercial, off-the-shelf equipment and cloud services that can be more easily procured and connected together. Google’s cloud platform will allow the Air Force to scale up the training to users around the world.

“You read about [how to fly]; you do it in a classroom; you take an academic test; you do it in a simulator; then you go do it in an airplane,” Eric Frahm, a program manager with the DIU, tells Defense One. “So you really only get two to three looks at something before it’s time to really perform and essentially get evaluated on it,” he says. The result is “a lowest-common-denominator approach to training.”

Commercial Tools Will Enable an Immersive Training Experience

According to a press release, the JITS programs will use COTS equipment including VR headsetsjoysticks, throttle and rudder pedal controls, and gaming chairs to create an immersive training experience.

Under a pilot program, the release notes, the 19th Air Force will host these solutions on Google Cloud, “helping to scale the project to thousands of users in multiple locations, whether inside the classroom, living quarters, or while traveling.”

Google notes in the release that the “software used to manage each student’s training curriculum can vary widely from one aircraft to another” and its cloud tools will allow the DIU to “provide a consistent interface for the Air Force’s learning management system, as well as a single location for storing and managing pilot training data.”

Importantly, the training environment will allow the Air Force to collect and manage data on how trainees are doing both on written tests and flight simulations, Defense One notes.

“We’re moving that same data infrastructure to a place where we can collect it [from] the aircraft itself, despite the fact that these are very basic training aircraft that don’t have things like a data link or traditional data capture methods,” Frahm tells Defense One.

Instructors will therefore be able to have deeper insights into how airmen are performing in flight simulations in ways that cannot be conveyed by simple test scores.

“We’re going the next step and saying, ‘They got that question right but it took them five minutes,’” Frahm says. “That will lead to more sophisticated analysis of a student’s strengths and weaknesses, and help instructors understand what they need to teach. ‘They got that question wrong and two-thirds of the time when they get that question wrong, this other thing happens three weeks later.’ And so we’re going to proactively let the instructor know that. When they get to that event, the instructor needs to cover that in detail so we know the student knows it.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: See how the Navy uses virtual reality to train aircraft carrier crews.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jake Jacobsen