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20th MXG develops F-16 augmented reality

An Airman looks through an augmented reality headset at a piece of aerospace ground equipment.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Pickens, 20th Maintenance Group aerospace ground equipment (AGE) instructor, uses an augmented reality headset on a piece of AGE at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2020. The headset projects step-by-step instructions on how to perform certain maintenance actions for F-16 Viper maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

An Airman looks through an augmented reality headset at a digital technical order while another Airman directs him on how to use the gear.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lou Schisler, 20th Maintenance Group (MXG) instructor element noncommissioned officer in charge, talks Tech. Sgt. Michael Pickens, 20th MXG aerospace ground equipment instructor, through how to use an augmented reality (AR) headset at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2020. The instructors hope to use the AR headsets to help provide new ways to train new maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

A contractor takes notes on her cell phone as an Airman uses an augmented reality headset.

A contractor takes notes as a 20th Maintenance Group instructor uses an augmented reality headset to view a virtual F-16 Viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2020. The contractor was able to use data to map out points of interest for maintainers allowing the headset to overlay highlighted areas on a physical F-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. --

Sometimes the pathway to innovation isn’t straightforward into the future, sometimes it requires going back to the beginning to improve processes from the roots.

The 20th Maintenance Group is working to bring the future to the here, the now, and the proven F-16 Viper, by getting technology more involved in the way they train their maintainers.

“When I was coming up, it was difficult to get actual hands-on training in removing major components,” said Tech. Sgt. Lou Schisler, 20th MXG instructor element noncommissioned officer in charge. “You’d be put on a team with an experienced individual assigned and you’d take your time to go through all the steps.”

In conjunction with the 20th Fighter Wing Viper Innovation Cell, the University of Maryland and a private company, Schisler is developing the more advanced way of providing that education to individuals who might better be served through a different learning style lens. One such alternative lens is augmented reality.

Schisler wants to create a more proactive training model through AR so that individuals do not have to wait for something to break to learn how to fix it and said that the current standard of having one person teaching multiple individuals at a time might not lend itself to productive learning environment for some.

“You’re waiting for a component to break so you can get on that team, whereas with something like this all you would need is to have access to an aircraft and with the overlays you could see how you would go through the steps.”

Not to be confused with virtual reality, AR provides the individual with the freedom to work on an actual F-16 and gain a hands-on experience through holograms projected onto a heads-up display and overlaid onto the real world.

Schisler said VR, which often requires the user to be tethered to a computer strong enough to render a full 3D environment would be conducive in the maintenance world.

The team is working to create an AR program that walks individuals through the necessary process for “safe for maintenance”. A simple start-up task that needs to be accomplished prior to any other action on the aircraft.

The "safe for maintenance" process includes quick, short tasks such as ensuring the jet is electrically grounded, and other safety measures.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, have simultaneously been working on similar AR tasks for F-16 aerospace ground equipment and aerospace propulsion processes.

“These are the beginning stages but we hope to get into something further that may potentially help with maintenance itself,” said Schisler.

While the work to polish the AR program is ongoing and the headset continues to be reworked into smaller and more manageable forms, the current product includes the ability to highlight points of interest on an aircraft, provide audio safety warnings and a digital copy of technical orders as well as step-by-step instructions.

As the Air Force continues to bring the future faster, developing new ways to embrace the technology of the times and to create the technology of tomorrow, leaders from around the service have reached out to their Airmen to come up with new ideas such as this AR program. At Shaw, this call to action is carved into reality through the Viper Innovation Cell.

The cell aims to bring ideas like these to life through developing new partnerships and programs. Recently, Tech. Sgt. Steven Edwards, 20th Fighter Wing Innovation Cell noncommissioned officer in charge, has also assisted the 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron in gaining new loading apparatuses to improve efficiency and the 20th Component Maintenance Squadron’s egress shop in developing an all-encompassing mobile shop kit.

To submit an idea to the Viper Innovation Cell, visit the McElveen Information and Learning Center between 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday to speak to Edwards.

“Your idea doesn’t have to be developed,” said Edwards. “It can be as crazy or out there as anybody’s. It doesn’t matter, just speak up and give the idea or else nobody might ever know. We are here to help you turn that idea into a reality. Your idea might not be the solution but it might be the one that sparks a chain reaction of ideas in others.”