Air Force Featured Stories

16th TRS puts control of learning in students' hands

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Ensuring Airmen are ready to meet the joint-warfighting needs of today’s dynamic security environment in a way that moves with 21st century speed is a challenge faced in every training environment in Air Education and Training Command.

Innovating through inspiration from AETC’s beta-testing of a new cloud-based learning services ecosystem, the 16th Training Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base is diversifying how they train MQ-9 Reaper student pilots and sensor operators—by putting the power of learning into students’ hands with tablets.

“Our current senior leaders, from Gen. Goldfein down to Lt. Gen. Kwast, have communicated the need to change and how critical innovation is to lethality and readiness,” said Maj. Nikita Wetherbee, 16th TRS chief of training. “The MQ-9 training team identified discernable gaps in training and recognized a need to improve. We believe a ‘family of systems’ that leverages, analytics, artificial intelligence, feedback and content on demand ‘anytime, anywhere,’ will transform the way we teach and train.”

Previously, Airmen have been limited with when they learn and where they access their study materials.

“In the past in the industrial age, when you come into the service, Airmen have been told what to learn, when to learn and how to learn it,” said Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, AETC commander. “This is one of the paradigms we have to break.”

The MQ-9 Formal Training Unit Innovation project will supplement bulky laptops with tablets that can be used in the classroom and in a student’s dorm, eliminating the long-held paradigm that the Air Force controls learning and putting that control directly in the learner’s hands.

By day, Airmen can follow along with their instructors and provide real-time feedback via interactive learning software. By night, Airmen can review the day’s lessons and access additional training materials that appeal to the many different learning styles, at their own pace and in a way that meets specific needs for that topic.

“The MQ-9 was born from an innovative idea to control aircraft from a remote location,” said Wetherbee. “When students arrive at the FTU, it is imperative that they train the way that they will fight; that includes leveraging the most innovative learning solutions to improve the quality of future MQ-9 warfighters.”

Currently, the 16th TRS is testing out training software with the hopes of testing the platform on students in April.

“Our students are excited about innovation and by adapting to current and future technology instructors can connect with their students in a more targeted way to tailor and improve student’s knowledge base,” Wetherbee said. “A greater baseline strengthens the FTU’s ability to improve airmanship and produce agile and more proficient Airmen ready to lead in dynamic and challenging operational environments.”

While students will be able to learn on their own outside of the classroom, the intent of this learning platform is not to eliminate the face-to-face aspect of upgrade training.

“(The students) need a professional officer and noncommissioned officer to help guide, develop and mentor them,” said Col. Joseph Campo, 49th Wing commander. “The course here is not just about the ‘ones and zeros.’ We are teaching them how to be professional Airmen and professional lieutenants, and what it means to carry yourself and wear the uniform.”

In addition to the MQ-9 FTU Innovation project, the 16th TRS recently upgraded their MQ-9 cockpit simulators from the Block 30 to Block 50 as part of their Simulation Heavy Experiment.

Part of the MQ-9 pilot and sensor operator course is conducted in a MQ-9 cockpit simulator, before this experiment instructors were unable to playback previous training missions to highlight learning objectives. The SIM Heavy Experiment will increase the SIM portion of training from 63 percent to 84 percent and will allow instructors to record, play back and review audio and video from their student’s SIM lessons.

The SIM Heavy Experiment is currently underway, and is expected to last until June.

“Our students are at the forefront of history and their role is pivotal to both aviation and national lethality,” said Wetherbee. “MQ-9s will continue to shape the way that our nation fights future and current conflicts.”