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362nd TRS's T3 initiative proving to be virtual success in the classroom

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – If ever an opportunity existed for the Air Force to embrace the type of change Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. has called for, it’s at the beginning of an Airman’s career where archaic training methodologies and equipment are used to prepare 21st-century Airmen for tomorrow’s fight.

The 362nd Training Squadron here, home to all of the service’s crew chief technical training, is leveraging today’s technology to provide a near-real experience in a virtual world as Airmen learn their trade. Technical Training Transformation, or T3, introduces a learning platform that is familiar to today’s generation of aircraft maintainers who grew up with technology in their hands at an early age.

A group of subject matter experts and contractors met virtually Feb. 18-19, 2022, to conduct a mid-program review and verify procedures, reactions, sounds and haptics of all aerospace ground equipment, C-130 systems and flight control environments. The group also discussed new initiatives moving forward such as including more virtual aircraft into each component, virtual marshalling scenarios for students, inspection concepts and others.

Tech. Sgt. Kyle Ingram, a 362nd TRS curriculum development writer and subject matter expert on crew chief fundamentals, said the employment of virtual, augmented and mixed realities on different platforms is a game-changer for developing crew chiefs today. By changing the format, or method, in which Airmen are being trained, they are able to accelerate the learning process.

“We’re seeing students perform at a 7-percent higher rate, but they’re also finishing the class about 43-percent faster,” he said, adding that the virtual environment allows students to listen to instructors while visually learn what is being taught. “It’s allowing us to speed up, as a byproduct, the process of us getting Airmen to the flight line.”

This hasn’t always been the case.

The majority of today’s students are taught with methods and ground instructional training aircraft that have been used for decades. The process has been the same, too. Classroom instruction with PowerPoint slides. Photos of specific aircraft without the benefit of seeing one. Visual instruction at C-130 landing gear trainers, followed by Airmen getting a hands-on opportunity. And then the questions come because the correlation between classroom instruction and hands-on experience isn’t immediate.

This virtual environment, though, provides a learning experience today’s Airmen are accustomed to – and expects from a modern Air Force – and produces a much more technically trained maintainer. Instructors are already seeing an improved product when comparing traditionally taught Airmen and those using virtual technology.

“The Airmen, when it came to doing their hands-on tasks throughout tech school here, were far more competent,” Ingram said. “They knew exactly where to go and what to do on that aircraft right then and there. You only had to tell them what to do, and then they knew exactly where to go and what to do in that procedure.”

Airman 1st Class Nathalie Orlate, a crew chief fundamentals course student from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, said she has never been a mechanically inclined person up to arriving at Sheppard roughly a month ago. She said she is more of a visual learner, so being able to see concepts instructors are teaching makes it easier for her to understand and relate it to her future job.

After just a few minutes of getting a feel for the VR equipment controls at the 362nd TRS, she was able to move through the program and begin learning about the aircraft. She said it was easy to pick up the technology and put it to use in a training environment.

“Someone who is not experienced being able to really dive down and get into it before actually being able to work on the aircraft in person once I get to my base is very helpful,” she said. “It gives me less anxiety. I’ll actually know what I’m doing.”

Ingram said each student has their own preference in how they learn. The virtual platform gives Airmen the ability to choose which works best for them.

“It’s up to the student,” he said. “They’re the ones who get to choose how they’re going to learn all of this; everything they need to learn through tech school.”

Ingram, who began as a C-5 Galaxy crew chief, said having this technology available when he went through training 11 years ago would have been beneficial for a number of reasons including being a more effective maintainer after graduating the course and understanding the sheer size of the Air Force’s largest cargo aircraft.

Today’s Airmen, though use of this technology, will be able to see and become familiar with their aircraft before getting to their first assignment.

The squadron began a test-run of the technology in 2020 under the Maintenance Next initiative. Two control classes – one traditional and the other with VR technology – underwent training. Students are now being surveyed to gauge their performance in the field. Results should be available fairly soon.