Airmen assigned to the 18th Maintenance Group use virtual reality headsets to review maintenance tasks March 28, 2019, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th MXG is currently developing and reinforcing job tasks for maintainers across three separate aircraft.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sutton)
Airmen assigned to the 18th Maintenance Group use virtual reality headsets to review maintenance tasks March 28, 2019, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th MXG is currently developing and reinforcing job tasks for maintainers across three separate aircraft.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sutton)

Keystone of Innovation

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sutton
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan – Since its inception years ago, virtual reality has provided ways to relax, have fun, and is a great way to learn or train in a controlled environment.

Now, the 18th Maintenance Group has a new VR training matrix and is currently developing and reinforcing job tasks for maintainers across three separate airframes.

“Our virtual reality training program is a new and intuitive way we’re training members on a wide-range of core maintenance tasks,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Short, 18th Maintenance Group KC-135 maintenance training instructor. “A while ago, our commander sent out an email asking about how we could incorporate new technology to help our Airmen succeed. I had the idea to use VR technology to help with maintenance tasks for our crew chiefs.”

Short’s idea was approved and the 18th MXG soon purchased high-quality VR technology. Qualified maintenance instructors began performing maintenance tasks while being filmed with VR equipment. The footage was then edited for accuracy. Finally, graphics and narration were added in so it can be used as a training tool for any skill-level.

“The VR training modules are a great way for maintainers to focus on specific tasks without the distractions of daily flightline operations,” said Short. “The Airmen experience the maintenance (that they are about to do) and can focus on specific portions to ensure they are 100 percent on the task…before actually going out and doing it.”

Kadena AB is known as the “Keystone of the Pacific” and is the largest U.S. installation in the Asia-Pacific.

“Our maintenance group is vast so the current VR video library has aircraft maintenance training videos for the F-15 Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers, and HH-60G Pavehawks, and that’s just the beginning,” said Short. “Eventually, we want to have the VR headsets added to the toolkits so maintainers have them as a reference for specialized tasks. When needed, they can put the headset on, review the training, then go to the aircraft and perform the exact same maintenance. If they run into any issues, they can simply put the VR headset back on and review the video so they can safely and effectively complete the maintenance.”

Short explained that him and his team have been working on this project since December 2018.

“I really think these VR training videos will be vital for training new members as well as assisting our more skilled maintainers with the extremely detailed and difficult tasks,” he explained. “Also, when we have down time, the maintainers can come check out a headset and practice a wide-variety of tasks. The headsets are easily portable so in the future we can send them with squadrons and units who go on temporary duty assignment across the globe, so they can get a refresher on any training they may need.”

“It’s not meant to replace hands-on maintenance training,” he continued. “However, they are meant to augment it so we can constantly prepare and improve.

These VR training tools have been extremely popular with maintainers, especially the newest members of the maintenance squadrons.

“These virtual reality headsets are very helpful in making sure we can safely see how to perform specific maintenance tasks,” said Airman 1st Class Elwood Tapia-Garcia, 718th Maintenance Squadron KC-135 crew chief. “Especially for those of us who are fresh from technical training, we are able to use these virtual reality training videos to watch tasks being accomplished before going out onto the flightline and performing them.”

“It really shows the innovation and evolution in how we will train in the coming years,” Tapia-Garcia continued. “This is a really great step forward because it helps us improve every part of our maintenance skills.”

For new maintenance crew chiefs, the opportunity to use the VR training tools helps them overcome the challenges of their demanding jobs in an efficient and effective way.

“I’m so glad to have these training tools and to have the opportunity to be a crew chief in the world’s greatest Air Force,” said Tapia-Garcia. “I get a lot of satisfaction watching the aircraft take off, knowing I made sure it was safe and able to perform its mission.”

For the future of the program, Short explained building thorough video libraries of maintenance tasks, using the different maintenance training instructors to assist with accuracy and development, was the priority.

“Right now we are focusing on building training libraries for maintenance jobs across the flightline,” he said. “Once those are complete, we will expand to additional career fields. This will ensure the Airmen who perform any type of maintenance for our multiple airframes are able to use these training tools. We are also going to work with other Kadena units to see if they are interested in VR training opportunities.”

Eventually, Short and his team hope to expand the program’s capabilities to other visiting units from other major commands across the United States Air Force. 

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