The cash prize is on the line as the US Air Force launches a high-tech training competition

WASHINGTON – Air Training and Training Command is looking for new ideas on how to transform the way it trains the next generation of pilots – with prizes of hundreds of thousands of dollars it is online.

The winners of the second annual iChallenge will be announced in San Antonio, Texas, on May 24, during the ForceCon conference.

The person or team that wins the grand prize will receive $ 225,000 to be used as start-up money to further develop the top idea. Two runners-up will receive a $ 125,000 prize.

In an interview on May 11, Chris Adams, head of AETC’s Innovation Advancement Division, said the team hoped the competition would spark pilots’ interest in innovating new ways to train staff, uncover these ideas and attract innovators. with the necessary resources to make their ideas a reality. and take them into the hands of pilots.

The iChallenge not only brings innovative pilots to command, Adams said, but also connects them, industry, academics and funding sources so they can share ideas further. This will be the first time that industry and academics will hear the iChallenge proposals.

“One thing we are doing this year is to share our proposals so that we can help address gaps and challenges in the development of forces and really accelerate change as [Chief of Staff] Gen. [CQ] Brown told us all to do it, “said Lt. Col. CJ Hale, head of the AETC’s rapid deployment office. “This will be a great opportunity for industry and academia to see where the minds of our innovative pilots are and how they are trying to incorporate emerging technologies to modernize and enhance AETC’s mission.”

Competitors in this year’s iChallenge competed in one of four categories. One category focuses on the training of “capable pilots”, a concept in which US Air Force personnel are trained on the basics of performing other tasks in addition to their own. This may be necessary in a wartime situation in which pilots in isolated bases without reinforcements will have to perform several tasks to maintain the operation of the unit. Brown emphasized the importance of capable pilots in his “Accelerate Change or Loss” strategy.

Another category is looking for ways to use augmented or virtual reality, as well as mixed or augmented reality – technology designed to improve the way the service trains its power. AETC already uses these concepts in programs such as Pilot Training Next, which use artificial intelligence and virtual reality to improve and accelerate the process of training new pilots.

The other two categories include ideas for building and delivering custom software applications and for improving the soft skills of pilots and leaders, such as communication.

Hale said the AETC is particularly interested in creating training programs to create multi-talented pilots that are affordable, modern and adaptable. The command also wants to create and update these training programs internally from pilots, instead of contracting and having to return to update providers.

Finding fresh and innovative ways to use technology, such as virtual and augmented reality, is crucial in training, as the Air Force is looking for new employees who have grown up as “digital locals,” Adams said.

Virtual reality allows complete immersion in a computer-generated environment, sometimes through the use of glasses, and augmented reality superimposes virtual elements on the reality that the user sees. As an example of augmented reality, Adams cites the game Pokémon Go, in which players use their smartphones to find and capture hidden creatures while walking.

“It allows us to actually meet our learners where they are,” Adams said. “They use these things all their lives. They did Pokémon Go and all that other stuff, so it’s very natural for them. “

And adopting this type of immersion learning technique gives students more control over the way they learn, Adams said, because they can often continue to study at home and learn at their own pace.

Each of the competitors has 10 minutes before the selection committee, which includes the new AETC commander, Lieutenant General Brian Robinson. This includes a 3-minute presentation of their idea, followed by a 7-minute Q&A session with the judges.

The first iChallenge last year, which was structured differently from this year’s competition, won first prizes for ideas in three different categories, including an award for an interactive cyber education program called Cyber ​​Space Odyssey.

With a total of $ 475,000 offered this year, there is also a lot more money at stake than last year, when the prizes totaled $ 300,000.

Stephen Lowey is an air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously reported on, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. He previously covered US Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for the Air Force Times.

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