A USAF student pilot practices a takeoff using a virtual reality flight simulator at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
System could save money while improving learning.
The USAF is testing new educational technologies the service believes may help its airmen to learn faster while also improving retention. Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training Command hopes the results of current testing, scheduled to be completed next year, will show technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, all funneled through super computers, can improve the speed and effectiveness of the adult brain. If the Air Force testing is successful, it’s not farfetched to imagine civil pilot training one day using some of those same proven technologies in its training.
Speaking at the Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor Maryland last week, Kwast cited pilot training as one area of focus where technology could update the one-on-one training relationship between pilot and instructor. For example, consider that a fighter pilot learning basic aerobatics is ready to begin the block about how to fly the perfect loop. Today, a pilot learns the basics on the ground, then practices in the air with an instructor acting as a guide from the back seat.
But AI could begin that pilot’s education differently long before the first training flight. Using technology on the ground, “the artificial intelligence is watching you do that loop,” Kwast said. “As you pull back on the stick, it can tell what you are doing and says, 'Hey, you are pulling back too much. ... or, your nose is starting to drift to the right a little bit. Keep your eye on the horizon.'" The artificial intelligence is also watching and learning from the new pilot. “It's learning how you learn, and it's giving you advice that's helping you adjust in real-time so you aren't making mistakes,” all with no human intervention.
As it becomes less expensive to create realistic, three-dimensional training environments, AI can adapt that environment to other aspects of how people learn. Kwast said, "It will even suggest, 'You are more of a visual learner or you are more of a text learner. It's better for you to read it first and then do it, or for you, it's better for you to see it first and then do it.'
"We are not looking to remove the human element from training and education," said Brig. Gen. Jim Sears, director of Plans, Programs and Requirements at AETC. AI would simply supplement the limited number of human instructors and allow students "24/7" access to simulators without worrying they’ll pick up any bad habits when their instructor’s not close at hand. Kwast said the testing results should be ready by next summer.
If the Air Force testing is successful, who knows how long it might take for civil pilot training to begin using some of those same proven elements in tis training.