Is Augmented Reality the Next Frontier in Flight Training?
AirForce magazine recently ran an article entitled “Is Augmented Reality the Next Frontier in Flight Training?” An Air Force-backed augmented-reality company plans to demonstrate airborne technology in November that it says could do away with Red Air flight training.
Red 6 Aerospace’s software simulates enemies that pilots can fight during live flights. Rather than hooking up users to a closed, indoor system, the simulation works outside and adjusts as the user moves, according to creator Dan Robinson. He argues the invention can stop the Air Force’s dependence on expensive, traditional simulators and adversary air contracts while freeing up its aggressor pilots for missions other than Red Air.
Whereas virtual reality creates an entirely new world around you, augmented reality adds images to your regular surroundings that aren’t there in real life—for instance, showing an aircraft against the actual sky instead of creating both the airplane and the sky.
“We can simulate any near-peer adversary, which we are absolutely unable to do right now,” said Robinson, a former United Kingdom Royal Air Force pilot. “My vision is taking this technology to a point where we should never have to physically put another Red Air adversary, i.e., a real aeroplane, in the sky to provide Red Air again.”
The Air Force is increasingly trying to integrate AR and VR into regimens from maintenance to training to mission planning to operations. It argues airmen learn quickly through digital methods that are more responsive and require fewer traditional resources like instructors and certain equipment.
Air Education and Training Command’s Pilot Training Next initiative is helping spearhead that effort, as is AFWERX, the Air Force’s organization that helps find and foster new technologies, largely from commercial industry. Red 6, which launched in January 2018, holds a Small Business Innovation Research contract with the Air Force and is partnering with Air Combat Command’s Training Support Squadron, the service said. The company also secured $2.4 million in its first round of seed funding earlier this year, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Red 6 demonstrated its AR simulation on the ground in February for the Air Force Test Pilot School, Air Combat Command, Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX, AETC, and others, in an aircraft the company built, Robinson said. The event was successful, he said. A second demo is planned for next month.
Robinson said the company has already started vetting its AR in the air. The Air Force, Navy, and Royal Air Force, as well as aerospace companies and investors, are slated to attend the demo, he said.
As the service looks toward AR and VR, the military acknowledges there’s more to learn about the software. In March, an Air Force Institute of Technology study focused on using AR for maintenance pointed out that the technology may need a wireless network connection, that the technology can mildly disorient users, and that simple tasks can become more difficult in the virtual world.
Although AR can be beneficial overall, the study said, the Air Force’s infrastructure security “may hinder full integration.”
The service needs to understand the technology’s expected benefits and implications outside of the limited uses that have already been studied, the report stated. Others in the Air Force expect that the service, driven by younger airmen rising through its ranks, will embrace AR as “digital natives.”
“If the Air Force fully implements VR/AR into its flight training processes, the students could have virtual hands-on experience much earlier in their careers, which could bridge the training-to-experience gap challenge that the Air Force now faces,” the service said in a January release.