By Sean Green | Director of Marketing and Communications

BOSSIER CITY, La. — Training for B-52 pilots is moving into the future via a new innovation effort by Air Force Global Strike Command and STRIKEWERX.

STRIKEWERX, the command’s innovation hub, is aiding Global Strike’s effort to build a state-of-the-art training capability for training pilots to accomplish air refueling in the B-52 bomber via the Mixed Reality Air Refueling Training Challenge.

The difficulty of inflight refueling is the primary driver behind the requirement for many additional training sorties. Maintenance and weather issues compound the ability to accomplish training, and no current simulation contributes to a pilot learning the fine motor skills and visual perception of movement necessary to accomplish air refueling.

STRIKEWERX is facilitating a Challenge event that brings together the best solutions from industry and academia that will develop a trainer which allows pilots to learn this essential skill more quickly.

“The B-52 Aerial Refueling Trainer represents a completely new approach to flight simulators, pushing the envelope for realism and educational efficiency while retaining the low cost of AR/VR flight training,” said Dr. Donna Senft, AFGSC chief scientist.

The Challenge, initiated with AFWERX, is open to industry solutions from March 16 to April 13. The Showcase event for selected industry solutions will be held in early June.

It is open to all industry, government, academia, and individual contributors. The Air Force will then evaluate solution submissions with the intent of funding all, some or none of those ideas for further development.

“This challenge brings together virtual reality, physical components the pilots can touch and get feedback from, biometric sensors such as eye tracking, and artificial intelligence to replace an in-person instructor pilot that provides a complete solution for training pilots,” explained Russ Mathers, STRIKEWERX director. “We are honored to help develop a unique solution that strengthens AFGSC and the B-52 mission.”

The challenge will combine Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and a physical model of the flight deck to make pilots safer and more efficient.

The challenge is seeking to solve four parts:

  • The human-machine interface, which is the replication of control on the flight deck
  • An automated virtual instructor in order to allow for students to practice by themselves
  • Biometrics to provide accurate feedback in the training program
  • Making the model reconfigurable for other aircraft by the swapping out of controls

Maj. Mark Budgeon is project champion for this innovative refueling trainer. Having previously lead innovation projects at the 307th Bomb Wing, it was a no-brainer to have him lead this effort.

“Our Commander Gen. (Timothy) Ray has interest in how far we can go with technology for this type of training.  The beauty in this particular innovation project is that were focused on one particular task, which is very complex,” Budgeon explained.

“There is no doubt that STRIKEWERX allows us to get to a solution at a much faster rate. STRIKEWERX has afforded us the flexibility in changing execution plans to innovate, which is directly in line with the Chief of Staff’s call to accelerate ‘change or die,’” he added.

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