PTN innovations move to undergraduate pilot training

  • Published
  • By Dan Hawkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

Beginning May 31, 2019, flying training wings across Air Education and Training Command will formally begin integrating innovations from Pilot Training Next into the undergraduate pilot training curriculum, 19th Air Force officials announced at the PTN Technology Expo held March 12-13.

Taking lessons learned and data derived from technology use during PTN, the idea is to blend those training approaches and content into the syllabi for specific T-1 Jayhawk, T-6A Texan II and T-38C Talon aircraft flights at UPT wings to accelerate student learning and build better aviators for the future.

“The Air Force we need requires us to provide better pilots, more of them and at a cheaper price point because we can’t sustain or increase the current production engine in its current format,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th AF commander, during opening remarks at the expo. “Through analysis at PTN, we know many of the ideas and innovations are working towards those goals. Introducing the technology into our normal pilot production flight rooms is the next natural step to scaling these concepts across the flying training enterprise.”

PTN was deliberately set up to allow people to explore a new path to learning and many of the technology solutions developed there are now ready to be introduced at varying levels in UPT across the command, Doherty said.

“There is an enormous amount of innovation being done at PTN and spiraling off to our wings over the last year, and a good deal of proven data points have been discovered,” Doherty said. “Now it’s time to incorporate some of this data and technology deliberately into our training pipeline, blending and offsetting with our current syllabi and training devices for the optimum aviator with a mindset of being competitive and agile as they prepare themselves mentally for future warfare.”

Technology currently being used at PTN was on display at the expo, with subject matter experts and vendors on hand to talk with attendees about the technology and how the scaling process could work.

"One of the main reasons we needed to have this expo was the opportunity to show the UPT wings the technology we are using at PTN to introduce concepts to students earlier in pilot training," said Lt. Col. Paul Vicars, PTN director. "Having the people here who are making decisions on the path their units take, who understand their unit-specific obstacles and how to tackle them, is an important piece of the overall integration process."

For Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander from Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, pushing the envelope of technology integration into learning is a natural progression in the future of pilot training.

“Using technology to break long-held, industrial age training paradigms will allow us as an Air Force to fly higher, further and faster,” Weeks said. “The Air Force is giving us free reign to innovate without a great deal of constraint. Doing so enables us to graduate better pilots who are more lethal and ready to accomplish their mission.”

In addition to UPT wing commanders, other attendees included other major commands flying operations staff, wing innovation cell leads, as well as instructor pilots across the First Command.

“This is a culture change and early access to information for students is key,” said Capt. Jason Epperly, a T-6 instructor pilot with the 41st Training Squadron at Columbus AFB. “Just providing accessibility to study materials and our simulators will help the students gain proficiency earlier in their training.”

With AETC continuing to develop a world-class culture of innovation, the use of creative approaches at the speed of relevance is encouraging and the momentum of inspiration, energy, and freedom of action by young aviators was noticeable at the conference, Doherty said.

“Today’s technology is allowing us to deliver new content and highly effective instructional techniques, access, and repetitions of high quality virtual reality flying environment which is producing higher quality flying skillsets in the air at a much faster pace,” Doherty said. “We anticipate the immersive training devices, along with artificial intelligence instruction and some of the other new tools we have implemented, will relieve some pressure off of our current pilot production enterprise due to instructor manning constraints. It is time to explore downloading and left loading content, scaling these technologies at our undergraduate flying and graduate level FTUs to help our Air Force achieve higher readiness rates in the future. We are step by step alongside you frontline instructors and we have to chase out risk aversion from our culture and find solutions of the future faster. It is an exciting time to be a part of AETC and I challenge all of you to run fast, run long, run deep and make our Air Force stronger, smarter, and more lethal in the future. You are our pathfinders, we trust you.”