Air Force Tries VR Training

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The Air Force is hoping to ease its pilot shortage by speeding up the training of new pilots using virtual reality simulators. The first class of 20 Pilot Training Next (PTN) candidates, 15 officers and five enlisted personnel, finished their course on Friday and 13 of the officers passed. Two officers washed out and were sent back to the regular pilot training stream from which all the officers were drawn. The enlisted personnel made it through but were returned to their old jobs. The course is an experimental one aimed at gauging the impact of V.R. training on the pace and scope of basic flight training. Those running the program were encouraged by the successes and will learn from the failures. "The failures are just as valuable as the successes,"  Maj. Scott Van De Water, Pilot Training Next deputy director, told Military.com. "There are a lot of ways that we're finding that the things that we're doing here are inadequate to the ends, and the legacy system is exceptional at doing.”

The V.R. simulators offered a more realistic experience for the participants and they were given unlimited access to them, allowing them to practice whenever they wanted to. The result was that they learned faster and mastered complex flight profiles earlier. The participants were loaded with sensors that recorded biometric data so the researchers could measure the physiological effects of training. The enlisted candidates were never going to actually be pilots. They were put in the group to see how important a college background is. The enlisted participants apparently did just fine. “They were flying very complicated profiles during their first check ride," Van De Water added, "and in just a fraction of the time on average the traditional check ride provides." A second PTN course starts soon and will be adjusted based on the lessons learned in the first one.

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