103rd leads innovation with first virtual reality loadmaster training system

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Jen Pierce
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

Loadmasters at the 103rd Airlift Wing helped develop the first Virtual Loadmaster Training System (VLTS), that recently became fully operational at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn.

The VLTS is the first loadmaster training program of its kind, and was the result of a three-year long effort between loadmasters of the 103rd Airlift Wing and developers at Capewell Aerial Systems, a defense contractor.

“This is another tool in our training arsenal,” said Master Sgt. Joe Amato, 103rd Maintenance Group aircrew trainer and VLTS project lead.

“It’s more diverse than traditional methods and now I can fill some holes in training folders on items aren’t physical action.”

Wearing virtual reality goggles, the VLTS program puts trainees directly into a C-130 aircraft during flight.

“It gives you a true 360-degree look around the airplane as if you were really in it,” said Master Sgt. Khaleef Graham, 103rd Airlift Wing loadmaster.

Graham, who has experienced VLTS training first-hand, believes the new training program is beneficial to the unit.

“In the event that an aircraft is not available, there is a weather cancel or something beyond our control, we have the luxury to go over to the virtual sim and run through the same checklists and work issues that could happen on the airplane. It basically enhances our proficiency before we get out to the airplane and actually do a mission.”

Amato, who led the VLTS project for the 103rd Airlift Wing, agreed with Graham.

“This doesn’t replace being in the actual aircraft, but having the ability to take someone with minimal experience and put them through different scenarios before having them experience it in real time is going to raise their comfort level and efficiency during an actual flight.”

Another feature the VLTS provides is the ability for a loadmaster to experience in-flight emergencies that would be too dangerous to train on during flight. One example is an airdrop of heavy cargo using two 28-foot extraction parachutes, known as a double-28 extraction. If the parachutes deploy, but fail to extract the load from the plane, it becomes a critical situation because the parachutes hinder the plane’s operability.

“You will never see a double-28 extraction go wrong until you see it,” said Amato, “and you never get any experience with it until it actually happens. Hopefully, this will build the muscle memory for our loadmasters to take the appropriate reaction when they see those two big chutes deploy, the load not extract and you feel the plane slowing down, you’ll get the muscle memory to ‘pull this lever, pull that lever’ and make the right radio calls.”

Training in these types of critical situations is exactly what Jared Burns, Capewell Aerial Systems Director of Operations and former U.S. Air Force B-1 WSO, had in mind when developing the VLTS.

“The system is meant to fill a training gap that we saw as defense supplier to the Air Force,” said Burns. “Several NATO allies we sell airdrop equipment to often ask for training, and some of the emergency procedures can’t be trained in a way that’s realistic. Limiting training to ground school or chair flying wasn’t doing enough to prepare loadmasters for these situations that are time critical. Up until the advent of virtual reality, there was no way to do it practically. We set out to give units the capabilities to practice these things at the unit, to see these situations in virtual reality, practice emergency procedures and develop some of the muscle memory that goes along with it. This reduces the time to react and time to correct, to overall improve the safety and effectiveness of the loadmasters.”

Ultimately, this is just the beginning for the VLTS program.

“We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the loadmasters, instructors, and leadership from the 103rd because really, we built the system around what they told us would work,” said Burns. “It’s a good partnership, we’ve taken their feedback and put it into the software and we’re looking to continue to working with the 103rd to build upon this program.”