Air Education and Training Command is looking to explore how people learn and making a more efficient path to pilots earning their wings by revolutionizing training through the Pilot Training Next initiative.
Scheduled to begin in February 2018, the program’s goal exemplifies the command’s concepts of the Continuum of Learning, including blended learning and data-centric facets by using existing and emerging technologies that can decrease the time and cost of training without sacrificing the depth of learning.
“This is student-centric learning,” said Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, Pilot Training Next initiative director. “We are going to use immersive technology to see how we can help people learn more effectively. This is an initiative to explore whether or not these technologies can help us learn deeper and faster.”
Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, AETC commander, said the PTN initiative is one way AETC helps make the Air Force more agile, adaptive and lethal.
“AETC is creating a new learning paradigm,” said Kwast. “It is vital we exceed the Air Force’s expectations with action. Creating Pilot Training Next is one step, one milestone, to ensuring America’s Air Force is fueled with the best pilots in the world. We owe it to them to get it right and we will rise to that challenge!
“AETC chose to focus on flying training because of the urgency involved with the enterprise,” he continued. “However, our focus is on how Airmen learn, not necessarily what they learn, exploring technology and how that technology can produce better and faster learning.”
PTN will lean on a variety of technological platforms to include virtual and augmented reality, advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence and data analytics, all of which can be tailored to the training environment and individual student. That knowledge will be used to refine scientific measuring capabilities and teaching techniques in order to produce the world’s greatest military aviators.
“The next generation of technology is emerging so we will rely on current as well as future technologies,” said Vicars. “We are looking at building an intelligent tutor that can monitor the students. It will track their biometrics and understand the stress level they are under to optimize the learning environment for the individual and put them under the right amount of stress to create learning.”
The PTN class, beginning in February, will consist of both Air Force enlisted members and officers. The officers for the class are slated to start undergraduate pilot training between December and February, and the enlisted members were specifically chosen because they have not attended college. In order to be successful, AETC officials are seeking students from different learning backgrounds. The enlisted Airmen eligible for the program will be selected from a pool of basic training Airmen who have recently completed basic training.
Vicars said there is a pilot candidate selection method as well as an enlisted candidate selection method that will allow for the best possible candidates.
“We want to select the top-caliber students and give them the tools, objectives and teachers so they can help structure a quality learning environment,” said Vicars. “Selecting enlisted members to fill the non-college student role is not intended to develop enlisted aviators. In this selection model, we can pool the data to determine what qualities, habits of mind and patterns of thought equal success in the flying training environment. We are then able to filter that data to develop simulators, apps and testing tools to pull in the very best talent.”
Upon completion of training, the officer students will move on to specialized undergraduate pilot training and the enlisted members will continue on to their predetermined technical training.
“If we do this right, and the students learn all the functional competency sets, as well as key and critical learning objectives and skills, then we would expect to be able to pin wings on them,” said Vicars. “Part of the challenge is to demonstrate that knowledge and those skillsets have been created. Using the software we are integrating, we will be able to prove and demonstrate that learning more objectively than what is available right now--even in legacy pilot training.
“Our enlisted Airmen are an important part of this program and will help us evaluate the learning methods across ranks, education background and learning styles,” he continued.
The training will be located at the Reserve Center at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Austin, Texas.
“We wanted to give the training its own environment and Austin has a very good growing technology ecosystem,” said Vicars. “Austin currently has the second-largest virtual reality ecosystem in the country. There is an energy there that we can tap into which will allow us to iterate this technology. It is also close enough to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to have access to Air Force resources.”
Instructor cadre and AETC officials must remain fluid and adapt to failures as this new training program rolls out and evolves.
“This only fails if we don’t learn in the moment,” said Vicars. “We are driving and pushing for things to fail, which in turn will create a safer training environment. Our intent is quality training and if the benefit is that we can do it faster and cheaper, so be it. We are striving for deeper and more meaningful learning.”