GRAND FORKS, N.D. --
Pilots and sensor operators no longer own the bragging rights to fancy simulators and sophisticated “drones.” The 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) now shares those rights.
From state-of-the-art paint and welding simulators to safety enabling quad-copter drones, AMXS Airmen are now equipped with training tools of the current tech-savvy generation. The new tech saves the squadron tens of thousands of dollars a year and potential trips to the medical group.
Take the VR paint booth for example: the system allows students to learn proper painting form and techniques without the worry of wasting costly supplies or the repercussions of making a mistake. Then, they are able to playback their session, allowing both the student and instructor to track performance and tailor teaching.
Now, throw in the fact that maintainers entering the paint booth require a respirator, chemical suit, and hearing and eye protection – and the true value of the system is apparent.
“Being able to train on the paint simulator makes learning so much better; instead of spending time dealing with all the safety gear, we can focus on perfecting our craft and calibrating our eye,” said Airman 1st Class Chase Furman, aircraft structural maintenance (ASM) apprentice in the 319th AMXS. “It’s actually enjoyable coming to work knowing that I get to use the VR trainer.”
With all the good being said about the system, not everyone was receptive to the idea of technology replacing actual hands-on learning.
“I was the biggest skeptic,” said Tech. Sgt. David Brown, the ASM’s section chief and 18-year career field veteran. “I never thought that it (the VR paint simulator) would be able to properly train Airmen, given all the technical aspects of our job; however, the booth is producing some of the best painters I’ve seen. I absolutely love it.”
The AMXS commander, Lt. Col. William Harrell, fully understood the benefits of the advancements. He hoped that the newer generation of Airmen would easily identify and adjust to the process, a hope that has been realized.
“Other communities across the Air Force are adopting similar innovative solutions and we in AMXS were ripe to adopt these next-generation capabilities as we pivot to the future,” said Harrell. “Technical solutions such as our VR equipment provide an affordable and safe capability to obtain this goal. And I do not intend to stop here.”
Harrell also recognized the need to invest in his squadron’s innovative mindset. To address this, he enrolled the 319 AMXS in Project Mercury, an initiative led by the Air University to drive innovative advancement.
Project Mercury provides education and experimentation on how to employ innovative practices. It then takes what students learn and places it into the environment they work and live in. The program accomplishes this through a blend of rigorous academics and diverse team projects, ensuring students can deliver an array of creative and disruptive ideas.
“Being a part of Project Mercury has opened my eyes to the many facets involved in identifying organizational problems and addressing them with valued solutions,” said Capt. Vaughn Pyne, 319th Aircraft Communications Maintenance Unit flight commander and winner of the Project Mercury team competition. “My new vantage-point on team concepts and innovative fixes is paying dividends in how we address problems around the unit.”
The new training tools and programs the 319th AMXS has implemented push Airmen towards modern ways of thinking; and, by using more efficient technology, they are able to tackle complex problems with simple solutions.