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B-1B Lancer pilots test augmented reality in air

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mercedes Porter
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Virtual reality has made headway in the Air Force as new innovative ways to train Airmen have been continuously highlighted in the media, but have you heard about augmented reality?

Unlike VR that immerses the user into a technologically imagined world, AR users view their physical environment with artificial objects overlaying the scene. This can become a beneficial way to train pilots and get the full effects of flying in the process, which is exactly what the team at Red 6 has achieved with their Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS).

Maj. Scott Thorup, Air Combat Command Training Support Squadron Detachment 14 commander, and Capt. Garrett Gamble, 7th Operational Support Squadron current operations flight commander, alongside F-15E Strike Eagle pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, were able to experience ATARS in Santa Monica, California, April 13-14, 2021.

“When it comes to training, getting a B-1 and a tanker from different bases in the same airspace at the same time can be challenging and costly, especially when we have brand new pilots that are just learning how to do air refueling,” said Thorup. “We are looking to utilize Red 6’s augmented reality system as the cost saving solution for our pilots to receive the most realistic training.”

With many B-1 pilots needing to stay current in their trainings, ATARS could potentially become the solution to keep them mission ready. The headset’s system works outdoors and in high speed, dynamic environments that the B-1s operate in and will allow the pilots to ‘load in’ the refueling tanker for real-time training; all while the visor tracks the motions of the pilots’ heads and the position of the airframe to determine how the virtual tanker is viewed and its location compared to the piloted aircraft.

Originally, ATARS was designed to assist in fighter pilot training to allow them to test their air to air combat capabilities in a ‘red airspace’ or enemy airspace, but the team has opened its capabilities to include air refueling. There is also potential to add more to the program as Red 6’s technology advances.

“We are part of the AFWERX challenge, which is led by the Air Force, and in that we are to demonstrate a capability that is indicative of the broader vision of what we are ushering in,” said Dan Robinson, CEO of Red 6 and former F-22 Raptor pilot. “I wanted to solve the red air problem by not having to put physical assets in the airspace, but by creating a synthetic world in which real pilots in aircraft can go up and train in; so there are a number of milestones we need to go through in a systematic way for that big vision, and having the pilots out here to experience ATARS is one of those milestones.”

Although ATARS is still in the works of developing its final product, the B-1 crews have high hopes for the technology and training the Air Force could potentially obtain from it and the possible thousands of dollars and man hours it could save.

“We are incredibly proud to be working with the 4th Fighter Wing and 7th Bomb Wing to receive their input,” said Robinson. “The driving force behind this was ultimately we wanted to get capabilities to the warfighters and to do things differently to solve problems that were never being solved in my time. I think this tech, augmented reality and synthetic training, is the way of the future.”