ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Virtual reality is coming to the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft in a collaboration with the 116th Air Control Wing and the 461st Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. A VR Maintenance and Operations Training Program has been created to supplement training and enhance mission effectiveness for Team JSTARS members.
In September 2019, Mass Virtual was awarded a contract at the first-ever Robins Spark Pitch Day to develop virtual reality training for Team JSTARS.
“It was pretty exciting since we have never seen a turnaround possibility like that, to actually walk into a place that has several competitors given the chance to present their product,” said John Brooks, Mass Virtual, chief executive officer. “The execution that followed in that same day was something I had never experienced before.”
According to Brooks, once Mass Virtual had a contract to develop a VR simulation, they teamed together with the JSTARS members to do a 3-D scan of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft and photographed every section for data collection to aid in the module creation.
Since the initial scanning and photographing of the aircraft the project is yielding dividends.
“On April 13, the first-ever JSTARS 3-D Virtual Reality beta model was seen by Robins AFB personnel,” said Master Sgt. Justin Ciszek, Robins Spark Hub NCO-in-charge. “On the first day we had the program up and running, the 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 6 here at Robins brought eight of their students to demo the program and ended up having an impromptu class, testing student knowledge on various parts of the aircraft.”
The use of the JSTARS 3-D VR beta model was a success with the students and instructors.
“The students loved it,” said Ciszek. “Cumulatively, 42 students and instructors have used the program so far to give feedback. The students were able to see and identify aircraft components, hazard areas and safety equipment they had just learned about in the classroom.”
The student feedback has been positive.
“When you can learn about something in the classroom and then hop into a program that resembles a real life aircraft right after, it really reinforces the learning experience in the users mind and solidifies the memory with visual indicators in a complete immersive experience,” Ciszek said.
Once the VR simulators are in place, air and ground crews will be able to see and hear exactly what they would as if they were on the flight line with the aircraft.
According to Ciszek, three step-by-step training modules and three complete computer and VR systems have been purchased which are expected for delivery by July.
“Virtual training is the future, and JSTARS in on the cutting edge of helping make that a reality,” he said.
The JSTARS 3-D simulators can be integrated into larger Air Force-wide VR system.
“The JSTARS VR system provides a future-leap into immersive training,” said Lt. Col. Jay Vizcarra, Robins SPARK Hub chief. “This system will integrate into larger Air Force VR initiatives like ‘Virtual Hangar,’ in which most of the USAF aircraft could be accessed for instructors and students worldwide to remotely train in the virtual environment.”
As the Air Force is looking for increased innovation with a focus on a more agile and lethal force, the creation of VR simulators allow personnel to train and troubleshoot systems while at the same time saving the Air Force money.
“For the Air Force as a whole, VR training has huge cost savings,” said Vizcarra. “There is a huge value in the training capacity you get out of it.”
With enhanced mission effectiveness and a more immersive training environment, the 116th ACW and 461st ACW is providing team JSTARS a credible program for current airmen to train and future Airmen build upon while keeping Team Robins on the cutting edge of innovation.