Ogden ALC uses virtual reality to enhance aircraft maintenance training

  • Published
  • By Todd Cromar, 75 ABW/PA

Over the past few years, the Ogden Air Logistics Center has introduced virtual reality training into its aircraft maintenance in order serve both new trainees and veteran workers seeking refresher training.

Virtual reality involves interactive content, including images and videos viewed primarily through VR headsets, computer monitors, or projected onto wall screens in immersive classrooms.

This technology allows viewers to explore, interact with, and manipulate objects within a 360-degree scene of a realistic artificial environment.

Originally introduced in gaming applications, VR has been a presence for some time. Although, it remains a relatively new technology, and like most innovations, it takes time to fully explore potential, then utilize and implement across various applications.

The Air Force has embraced VR for flight simulator training of pilots for years. However, in 2017, Air Education and Training Command in San Antonio, Texas, saw a significant shift in how young recruits absorbed and learned information. This realization prompted the adaptation of VR for aircraft maintenance training.

Initially known as “Maintenance Next,” the Air Force then invested more than $11 million into developing VR training tools specifically tailored for aircraft maintainers.

In 2020, the program underwent rebranding as “T3”—short for Technical Training Transformation. This transformation aimed to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of training for aircraft maintenance personnel by leveraging cutting-edge VR technology.

Developed in collaboration with civilian technology companies, the T3 training approach progressively integrated virtual reality tools to supplement traditional Air Force educational methods. These methods, which previously relied heavily on printed manuals, PowerPoint modules, and classroom lectures, were transformed through VR.

In recent years, the Ogden ALC has embraced this innovative VR training curriculum, establishing an aircraft maintenance VR immersive classroom and a dedicated VR training paint booth. These advancements enhance training effectiveness and efficiency for aircraft maintenance personnel, leveraging VR technology.

“This new approach is something that will help us train our mechanics to a much higher level,” said John Sowder, OO-ALC chief of Maintenance Training Instruction. “Until now, when we bring someone in who has received most of their training through PowerPoint slide presentations, trainees typically have only retained around 10% of the lesson knowledge, whereas with VR it has been shown that retention levels are at least 35% or more.”

Recognizing that people absorb and learn information in diverse ways, VR directly addresses this by presenting visual, audible, and kinetic content simultaneously to three of the five human senses within a dynamic training environment.

Moreover, VR possesses the unique ability to inspire and engage students, leading to more efficient achievement of educational objectives in significantly reduced timeframes.

“Now with VR instruction, new maintenance personnel are training in a visual hands-on environment, and almost immediately start developing muscle memory,” said Sowder.

“We can now take a brand-new trainee, who has never actually seen the airplane they will work on, put them on a real airframe for the first time, and immediately they know where all of the handles are, what parts belong to which sub-systems, as well as where everything is generally located throughout the aircraft.”

In addition to learning in different ways, Michael Brown, OO-ALC VR program manager, said there’s been a significant change in the makeup of the current workforce, noting a divergence from the historical pattern of previous military members entering civil service roles.

“Rather than being predominantly composed of experienced prior-service military personnel, the workforce now consists largely of individuals who have little to no exposure to aircraft and airframes,” said Brown. “The use of virtual reality as a powerful educational tool for these newcomers, its immersive qualities, and its capacity to offer a more effective learning environment is praiseworthy, when contrasted with traditional instructional approaches.”

Another benefit of VR training lies in its safety aspect. By mitigating risks associated with potential dangers inherent to this line of work, VR helps prevent costly mistakes or damage to real aircraft.

In the past, new employees typically underwent months of continuous supervision during hands-on instruction. Experienced mentors guided them through maintenance tasks, often at the expense of their own individual duties.

Additionally, this training occurred on the actual maintenance line, with tasks performed on real aircraft. For those new to, or unfamiliar with established safety protocols, this environment could pose potential dangers.

However, the adoption of VR technology has revolutionized this process, allowing for safer, more efficient training experiences.