Vertex Solutions and VR Training participated in a fly off event Aug. 10-11 at STRIKEWERX in the Cyber Innovation Center, Bossier City, Louisiana. Crews of pilots tested both prototypes during the two days. (Sean Green/STRIKEWERX)

By Sean Green | STRIKEWERX Marketing and Communications Director

BOSSIER CITY, La. — Air Force Global Strike Command B-52 pilots tested two prototypes that aim to save money and training time.

AFGSC and STRIKEWERX, the command’s innovation hub provided by Cyber Innovation Center, hosted a fly-off event Aug. 10 – 11 for advanced virtual reality midair refueling simulator hardware designed by Vertex Solutions and VR Training.

“These simulators go beyond what other Air Force AR/VR simulators can do in terms of flight realism and training efficiency,” said Dr. Donna Senft, AFGSC chief scientist. “This solution will result in reduced maintenance costs, no training delays, and improved pilot proficiency and readiness.”

The flyoff was the culmination of a year’s worth of market research by STRIKEWERX to source the best solutions from industry, academia and others to improve how B-52 pilots learn mid-air refueling.

Vertex Solutions and VR Training built the hardware for a physical simulator that accurately represents the B-52 cockpit in a smaller footprint.

“It’s not every day you get the opportunity to showcase your work to your end user and directly incorporate their feedback into your design,” Neil Levin, founder of VR Training, said. “We started this STRIKEWERX Challenge process more than a year ago and it’s incredibly rewarding to see Global Strike pilots physically utilizing the fruits of our labor.”

“Supporting the war fighter with a solution that directly addresses a pressing training need has been a rewarding experience. This challenge has given us the opportunity to work with some of the most innovative companies in the Extended Reality space,” said T.J. Moser, business lead at Vertex Solutions. “Having just retired from the military after a 28-year career focused on flight training, I would have loved to have the training tools available to today’s instructors. Regardless of the outcome of the challenge, the B-52 community is more prepared as a result of this endeavor.”

Specular Theory, a Small Business Innovation Research contract recipient, provided the virtual and augmented reality software to integrate with the physical component.

Specular Theory’s EARL™ simulator is a part task trainer and lightweight VR simulator that both teaches and lets aircrew practice air-to-air refueling. EARL™ demonstrates that a lightweight simulator running on the physical prototypes can offer the high fidelity required for accurate training.

The hardware components supporting the B-52 air refueling simulator were sourced through a challenge event, supported by AFWERX, launched in March 2021 with a six-week solicitation period. More than 100 vendors submitted proposals, and a team of government evaluators reduced them to 24 finalists for a showcase event. 

The evaluation team further reduced the finalists and Senft selected two vendors to develop prototypes. VR Training and Vertex designed and built their hardware over an eight-month period, before the evaluators assessed the prototypes for any potential utilization.