What industry has refined the technique of learning to a level that no other sector has developed, possibly even including education? I’d venture to say it’s the military. Our military has created models for learning that train its personnel on some of the most technical, detailed, and highly pressured tasks. One of its biggest training techniques is the use of games or simulations.

The military found that simulation training delivered increased learning compared to traditional classroom training. In fact, studies show that simulations can cut back on error, increase decision making speed and more while reducing equipment and procedural costs that come with live training sessions.

Navy Ship Damage Control Training
VESSEL, Photo Courtesy of Raytheon BBN

At this year’s Serious Games Conference, Raytheon BBN spoke about Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning (VESSEL) Damage Control Trainer, a shipboard training game that helps military personnel train on flooding control and fire fighting. VESSEL, which is used by 40,000 U.S. Navy recruits every year, involves a blended learning approach that provides an engaging training environment coupled with guided instruction and feedback.

According to Raytheon BBN, studies show that “errors in situational awareness, decision making, and communication are reduced by 50 percent for recruits who spend only one hour” with VESSEL. VESSEL is just one simulation tool used by the military that helps personnel train effectively and efficiently.

Air Force Flight Simulation Training

The Air Force also uses simulations by providers like FlightSafety to train its pilots on effective flight skills and emergency preparedness. Captain Geoff Cargill, a KC-10 aircraft commander and mission controller for more than 180 military personnel, says simulations are used quarterly to practice and maintain currencies with equipment and flight standards. The KC-10 is a three-engined jet that transports cargo as well as extends global mobility and global reach by precision offloading and onloading of fuel to and from a myriad of American and international planes.

KC-10

Cargill and other pilots use FlightSafety simulators for general training, worldwide missions, combats and emergency procedures sorties. These training session allow pilots to practice maneuvers and procedures that would not otherwise be replicated in a real jet.

“We do not do any emergency training in the air for operational risk management reasons as well as to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on a rapidly aging airframe. During initial qualification and upgrade qualifications on the KC-10, we use the simulator as an instruction and learning tool for mandatory procedures, prior to stepping into the jet for the first time,” says Cargill.

The simulations save time, money, equipment lifespans and potentially even lives. As Cargill says, “If you crash the simulator, you simply hit the reset button. If you crash the jet, you’ve killed 4+ aircrew and a $90 million piece of equipment.”

“If you crash the simulator, you simply hit the reset button. If you crash the jet, you’ve killed 4+ aircrew and a $90 million piece of equipment,” says Cargill.

Simulations allow pilots to practice “perfect storms” that can’t always be replicated in a jet. For example, pilots can effectively train on abnormal occurrences such as heavy wind shear, high crosswind landings, or equipment malfunctions. A simulated emergency procedure came into play for Cargill on one particular mission. During a flight one engine’s throttle locked at 75 percent and needed to be shut down. Yet, the pilots were able to safely land the aircraft.

“Because of our training and practice in the sim, we were able to shut that engine down and fly a two-engine approach and landing with one engine out. Without the sim, we would have been ‘test pilots’ because we do not shut down engines regularly in the aircraft,” says Cargill.

Military simulations are developing rapidly to increase training effectiveness for pilots and other military personnel. In the future, games will allow individuals to connect across the globe for online training.

“It allows you to efficiently tweak your training for better application in the real world. We are constantly upgrading our simulators to allow for better training. Most recently, we can now fly in formation with a computer generated wingman,” says Cargill, “Down the road, providers are working to link simulators together. So I could be flying my tanker at McGuire Air Force Base in NJ while another crew is flying a C-17 at McChord Air Force Base in WA. We could make them meet up, 3,000 miles away, so that the C-17 has to actually fly the receiver Air Refueling (AR) off of our tanker. Given the speed of electrons and the minimal cost to run a computer system, it just makes sense.”

Geoff Cargill is the author’s brother.

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