Enhanced reality of Redbird

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dan Walton
  • 48th Flying Training Squadron

Since July 1, 1996, the Alley Cats of the 48th Flying Training Squadron have relentlessly worked to train and create world-class pilots.

Each flying day during those 27 years, the T-1A Jayhawk served as the platform used to develop the foundations of new Air Force Mobility Air Forces (MAF), Combat Air Forces (CAF), and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) pilots. Instructors received a batch of students from the Primary Phase of Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) and had six months to turn each young aviator into a winged pilot with a basic understanding of operating a crewed, multi-engine aircraft in complex, all-weather environments.

Since the reactivation of the 48th as a Flying Training Squadron, the world has endured the Global War on Terror, the resurgence of Russia, and the rise of China into a significant player in global events.

With such change taking place in the world, the needs of the Air Force also shifted to meet the vision of the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General C.Q. Brown: “Accelerate Change or Lose.” This includes the transformation of the Air Force’s pilot training pipeline, as is clearly seen around Columbus AFB and the 14th Flying Training Wing. While the goal of creating world-class pilots remains constant, the means of execution in the 48th is undergoing rapid change and redevelopment. Between January and September of 2023, Alley Cat Instructor Pilots ferried 42 T-1A Legacy aircraft to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB for divestment, leaving a small fleet of 26 T-1A AMP aircraft at Columbus. This paves the way for the future of the 48th with the onboard of the Air Mobility Fundamentals Simulator (AMF-S) program, and the introduction of a fleet of eight Mid-Tier Device Simulators (MTD).

With the new syllabus and training device, the 48th Flying Training Squadron is revolutionizing pilot training through implementation of an advanced digital learning environment that modernizes the way Air Force student pilots are trained. Starting November 30, 2023, the Alley Cats will begin the execution of AMF-S in an immersive digital learning environment that heavily utilizes virtual and mixed reality headsets, utilizing a combination of the new MTDs and four newly renovated T-96 Operational Flight Simulators.

The mission of the 48th changed greatly in the past year, transforming to a unit that trains winged aviators in a graduate level program. The MTD fleet, known also as the “Redbird,” are full-motion, cockpit-specific, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified Advanced Aviation Training Devices designed to develop Crew Resource Management (CRM) and decision-making skills for graduate students destined for crewed aircraft in the MAF and CAF. With the aid of enhanced reality and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), the Redbird will allow the 48th to execute the mission of training world class pilots throughout the world and introduce new concepts not seen at an Air Force pilot training installation.

While the T-1A Jayhawk is tested, tried, and true in its ability to create Formal Training Unit (FTU)-ready pilots, it is confined largely to the Southeast United States, with the occasional cross-country mission beyond that scope. The AMF-S program, spearheaded through utilization of the Redbird, will enable the 48th to introduce international procedures, ocean crossing, low level maneuvering at just 300 feet, and the capability to train at any airfield world-wide in all weather and environmental conditions. Thus, the 48th will transform to execute with the most innovative technology, maintaining the rate of production the Air Force needs to address the current pilot shortage, equipping the newest pilots of the USAF to maintain air superiority in the constant scrap for influence in the world.