US Navy introducing virtual training for aircraft carrier flight deck crews

The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research has developed a virtual trainer that will allow aircraft carrier flight deck crews to prepare for the job without having to be on an actual carrier at sea.

The new technology is called Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training Expansion Packs (TEPs) and is an expandable framework of game-based immersive 3D technologies that allows for individual, team or multi-team training events.

“Having a simulator that allows us to tie the full flight deck team with all the key decision-makers, supervisors, catapult crew and watch stations together—and train in a virtual environment—is just fantastic,” said Cmdr. Mehdi Akacem, Air Boss aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

The first three TEPs will help a carrier’s Primary Flight Control team; the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) team; and the Catapult Launch Team.

The idea for the Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training came from an LSO instructor at Naval Air Station OCEANA. TechSolutions—ONR Global’s rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to address problems voiced by sailors and marines, usually within 12 months—listened to the idea and found the right people to make it happen.

Courtney McNamara, a computer scientist and the Advanced Gaming Interactive Learning Environment (AGILE) Team Lead at NAWCTSD, helped develop the technology.

“All of the ship systems, characters, flight deck crew characters and team members can be both driven synthetically or by live players,” said McNamara.

The training stations simulate real-life with the aid of virtual environments. Even the flight patterns that occur during the simulations are based on real flight patterns conducted by pilots.

The training can simulate normal operations and emergency conditions, exposing deck crews to a wide array of real-world scenarios.

“This is really the first example I’ve seen of extending the value of a simulation environment to such an essential, tangible thing as a carrier flight deck,” said Akacem. “It’s really a need we’ve had for years, one we’ve been able to get by without because of the grit and will of our sailors and marines.”

Photo: Cmdr. Jason Cassisi, left, air boss aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) participates in a final prototype demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) TechSolutions-sponsored Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training Expansion Packs (TEP). Photo: US Navy