Saving Time, Money and Airmen: WBI Sprint Builds Framework for VR/AR, Mixed Reality Aircraft Maintenance

22.02.19 04:34 AM By Jennie Hempstead

The Air Force Challenge

Aircraft maintenance is an often underappreciated, yet critical, job for Air Force mission capability. In 2016, maintainers across the Department of Defense serviced close to 14,000 aircraft, with active duty Air Force making up 161,000 of those maintainers. That same year, the Air Force utilized 23% of the total DoD maintenance budget, at a cost of $55.3B source. This kind of investment depends heavily on properly trained, healthy maintainers to get the job done.

With an average of 137.25 days source, recruiting the right people and keeping them healthy is paramount. A shortfall in 2016 left the Air Force 10%, or 400 maintainers, short of optimal readiness levels. Although these have numbers improved since 2015, there is still real concern about having enough personnel to maintain mission readiness. Alongside recruitment, training time is also a challenge.

Technical training takes an average of 77.5 days. “While our manning numbers have improved, it will take five to seven years to get them seasoned and experienced,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura M. McAndrews told the Dayton Daily News in December of 2017. ”We are continuously evaluating our readiness as quickly and effectively as possible.” Injuries to maintainers are a pervasive threat to today’s Air Force and can come from basic equipment. According to Aaron Mehta of the Military Times, “Perhaps no adversary has done more damage to aircraft maintainers in recent years than ladders, which accounted for 82 injuries and 682 days lost.”

What kind of technology could the Air Force use to deploy that would keep train maintainers faster, with fewer injuries and at lower cost?

Wright Brothers Institute and AFRL/RQVS have a vision for meeting this challenge. In August of 2018, the partners completed the preliminary phase of Tech Sprint for Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality for Aircraft Maintenance(VAMRAM). WBI’s Rapid Innovation Manager, Joe Althaus, facilitated the sprint with attendees from nine Air Force organizations, and well as three small businesses. The team came together to perform problem definition, brainstorming and initial solution generation activities. The problem definition activities included study/discussion regarding AF training doctrine, human perception, learning objectives, technology and simulation fidelity, and measures of effectiveness. Furthermore, the team explored the multidimensional relationships between these items and application of constraining lenses from effectiveness, risk, safety, doctrine, and acquisition perspectives. For the next phase of the Sprint the team wants to further refine the framework and apply it to a notional problem (i.e. Testing). Comments from the team included, “This is the right team and the right forum to address the problem,” CMSgt Capogna AFMC/A4. “The volume of work produced by a team this size is unlike any I have seen before,” Dr. Pam Kobryn, AFRL/RQVS. This is the fourth of 10 AFRL Tech Sprints being facilitated by WBI over 3 months as part of the AFRL/SDPE Innovation Pipeline initiative.

Source - Injury rates:

This story was featured in our FY18 Q4 report. Download the report here.