The U.S. Air Force’s 176th Maintenance Group (MXG) opened its innovative Virtual Reality (VR) Training Lab in December 2021, giving maintenance Aircrew an interactive way to familiarize themselves with maintenance processes without a physical airframe.
The 176th MXG used squadron innovation funds from ARCWERX to create the new lab. The purpose of ARCWERX is to create and foster a lasting culture of innovation in the Air National Guard (ANG) that builds on the unique structure, geographic distribution and talents of individual Guardsmen.
“This is intended for a trainer to be a safety rep and stand behind [them] but also to teach while [they are] going through the steps,” said Master Sgt. Bryan LoPorto, 176th MXG maintenance training manager. “It enables them to provide training to supplement what they would learn on the aircraft in an environment that’s less stressful.”
So far, the lab can access 18 modules. LoPorto said that the controls for the VR program are easy to learn, which allows greater accessibility and streamlines learning.
Virtual Hangar uses the same controllers and program available on Steam, a game service popular in the online gaming community. The lab only has access to C-130 modules, with plans to add modules that focus on the other airframes at the 176th Wing.
“For someone like me that has zero maintenance experience, I can see how new troops can benefit from this training,” said Tech. Sgt. Esdei Arurang, 176th MXG unit training manager. “It familiarizes you with the steps in the [technical order] and gives insight into the layout of the airframe. It does this without waiting on a part of the plane to break or waiting for that task to come up. Ideally, 100 students can hop on from anywhere in the world, and an instructor can walk those students through the proper steps in real-time.”
This new VR setup helps address trainer shortages across the maintenance career fields. When the lab setup is complete, trainers from across the Department of Defense will be able to give feedback and guidance to students in real-time as they go through tasks.
LoPorto said the 176th Wing is one of the first ANG units to have the capability of a virtual reality lab, enabling Aircrew to familiarize themselves with procedural maintenance that is rare or hard to cover during their drill status.
“Certain tasks are rarely done. For example, a C-check is done every 810 days or so,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Decorato, 176th Maintenance Squadron environmental systems specialist. “If a troop misses it, they would miss out on tasks that are specific to that check. An entire check could take a few weeks.”