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By Airman 1st Class Spencer Kanar
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The Innovation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base focuses on finding creative solutions for everyday problems and exploring new ways to improve existing practices.
Currently, the Innovation Center is focusing its efforts on issues affecting training, such as asset availability and the challenge of bridging the gap between classroom instruction and real life scenarios. To test possible solutions, the center has begun exploring the use of 3D printers and virtual reality (VR).
3D printers allow instructors to create models for demonstration purposes in place of a real asset. The center at Kirtland has recently used the printers to create a cut-away model of a jet engine to show students how the engine functions. Models like this are cheap and easy to create, eliminating the need to have a real piece of equipment for teaching purposes. This saves the Air Force the man hours required to free up a piece of equipment while also eliminating the potential of damaging the equipment when handled by inexperienced students.
“We have a couple different types of 3D printers, and they’re open for anybody to learn and use,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Leeson, 58th Maintenance Group program security manager. “The software in itself is challenging to learn, but I find that learning it will make you a bit more computer literate.”
In conjunction with 3D printers the Innovation Center has started offering training using virtual reality to help students bridge the gap between classroom instruction and a real scenario. While in VR students can work through an exercise while listening to step-by-step instructions from the instructor.
“Not everyone learns well while reading,” said Leeson. “Being able to translate what’s written into something students can visually see in VR has been a great help every single time.”
VR allows instructors to simulate, and even create their own scenarios for students to complete. Instructors can also place students in any given situation and create custom problems to challenge the student to adapt and overcome in the moment.
“VR lets you test procedures in all sorts of unusual or stressful scenarios,” said Staff Sgt. Drake Higgins, 58th Maintenance Group design and instruction chief. “In less than five minutes, I can have you in a simulation doing a pre-flight inspection on a C-130 or place you in a convoy where the truck in front of you hits an improvised explosive device.”
VR and 3D printers together have offered Kirtland the ability to conduct immersive training, regardless of circumstance, with the only limitations being the creativity and resources available to instructors. With the technology already showing great promise, and improvements being made every day, Leeson and his team are looking forward to the future.
“This is all still getting off the ground,” said Leeson. “But, the more people talk about the program, the more resources we get, and the more people we get in here to nerd out on an issue, the better we’ll be.”