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1st WXG’s virtual training brings real benefits

Jeffrey Fries, 1st Weather Group director of operations, learns to use virtual reality controllers from Dainius Slavinskas, technical director at Myriad Global Media, during a product handover March 14, 2019, at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. 1st WXG fielded a virtual reality training product that will allow Air Force weather personnel to familiarize themselves with a tactical meteorological observation system, known as a TMQ-53. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

Jeffrey Fries, 1st Weather Group Operations director, learns to use virtual reality controllers from Dainius Slavinskas, Myriad Global Media technical director, during a product handover March 14, 2019, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. 1st WXG fielded a virtual reality training product that will allow Air Force weather personnel to familiarize themselves with a tactical meteorological observation system, known as a TMQ-53. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) --

Airmen assigned to the 1st Weather Group are rolling out virtual reality training tailored to the needs of the Air Force Weather community, allowing them to train faster and smarter.

Delivered in March, 1st WXG’s NextGen Environmental Weather Training System simulates setting up and assembling a tactical meteorological observation system known as a TMQ-53.

The TMQ-53 is a portable, automated weather station that can take observations in up to one-minute intervals, enabling flying missions around the world. The data it produces can be utilized by a weather observer in the field or by the Air Force Weather community using satellite communications.

The TMQ-53 simulation complements other weather virtual reality training products being developed in parallel by the 3rd Weather Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas; the 18th WS at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the 93rd Air-Ground Operations Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Coordination on the development maximized the innovation while eliminating a duplication of efforts.

“The realism of the VR was incredible,” said Capt. Matthew Perkins, 1st WXG science officer. “I could make out tiny labels and serial numbers on equipment and aircraft even flew overhead during the simulation. Virtual reality brings unprecedented realism to our training ability when the physical equipment is unavailable. Our deployed Airmen will have greater familiarity with these tools than ever before.”

The TMQ-53 kit ships in several hard travel cases, containing approximately 80 separate pieces. Setting up the weather station correctly and in a short amount of time can be challenging. To this end, the company that created the VR models replicated every component of the TMQ-53, down to the plugs of the wires used to connect the weather station’s components.

When a trainee puts on the headset, they are tasked to set up the TMQ-53. The software trains them to not place equipment too close to a building or other obstacles that might interfere with the station’s accuracy. The simulation can also either guide the trainee as a tutorial or test their system knowledge.

The VR system will not completely replace the initial equipment training that an Airman might face during certification, but it will be used to provide familiarization as well as refresher training. The virtual world also allows variables such as inclement weather and equipment problems to be thrown at the trainee.

According to Tech. Sgt. Robert Thomas, 1st WXG Systems and Training noncommissioned officer in charge, VR cuts down on the need to purchase additional equipment, eliminates some temporary duty travel and lowers the potential for equipment breakage. The real savings come from Airmen not being taken away from their missions.

“Saving costs is what everyone wants to hear, but opportunity cost is today’s enemy, particularly time,” Thomas said. “A trainee can be immersed and familiarize him or herself without ever seeing the equipment and a member already certified can use it towards refresher training.”