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Staff Sgt. Dan Paxton an aeromedical evacuation technician instructor at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine oversaw the production and implementation of a C-17 virtual simulator which allows USAFSAM students to conduct virtual walk-throughs and experience the aircraft's aerovac capabilities in a classroom environment. (Air Force photo by Steve Thurow)
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C-17 simulator provides virtual, hands-on training

Posted 3/20/2007   Updated 3/20/2007 Email story   Print story


by 2nd Lt. Tania Bryan
311th Human Systems Wing Public Affairs

3/20/2007 - BROOKS CITY-BASE, Texas -- The Air Force's C-17 Globemaster III is capable of transporting 36 litter and 54 ambulatory patients and attendants rapidly out of the area of operations. 

This makes the C-17 a valuable asset to today's inter-theater aeromedical evacuation missions. However, with the introduction of new technology comes a need for training.

"Being a practically brand-new airframe, there were no older or retired models of the C-17 to convert into a training platform for the aeromedical evacuation technicians and flight nurses who attend training here," said Master Sgt. Scott Curran, the superintendent of aeromedical training. "Without the real thing, we relied on a slideshow of low-resolution photos to provide familiarization to the aircraft."

The instructors at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, or USAFSAM, here realized this gap in their training and began the search for a remedy.

"The idea came while browsing real estate on the Web one day," said Staff Sgt. Dan Paxton, an instructor for the aeromedical evacuation course at USAFSAM. "If we can take a virtual tour of a house, why not do the same with a plane? The technology was already there, it just had to be applied to the aircraft."

With the help of project officer Dorothy Buckholdt and USAFSAM's Advanced Distributed Learning office, funding was provided and a contractor was selected to help develop the initiative.

"As we discussed our initial thoughts on the program, Sergeant Paxton saw my vision immediately and took it a step further. I knew he was the right person to work with the contractor to turn this idea into reality," Sergeant Curran said.

Sergeant Paxton traveled to Altus Air Force Base, Okla., with a contractor to photograph every inch of the C-17, inside and out, as well as all of the equipment used on the aircraft when configured for aeromedical evacuation. The whole process took three days. From there, the images were pieced together like tile work and digitally placed on an airframe, which was modeled after a children's toy.

The final product is a virtual C-17 that is a completely seamless, 3-D training tool. Users can zoom in or out, turn or pan at any angle imaginable anywhere on the aircraft, said Sergeant Paxton. Users looking for a specific item -- such as emergency or therapeutic oxygen, litter stanchions, fire extinguishers or electrical systems -- can merely click that item and arrows will appear, highlighting their locations.

"The software enables you to actually 'fly' through the aircraft and up to a specific item," Sergeant Paxton said. "This gives you a better idea of it's placement inside the aircraft." 

A bird's eye view tool depicts the exact location in the aircraft at all times. Additionally, videos are embedded throughout the software. These videos give demonstrations on various tasks that may be preformed as a crew member aboard a C-17. Examples range from patient loading procedures to what to do in case of a fire.

"The C-17 simulator has filled an immediate need on our training program," Sergeant Curran said. "It's given a frame of reference to students who are deploying to Balad to conduct critical aeromedical evacuation missions. We also hope to make the simulator available to airmen in other career fields, from maintainers to aerospace physiologists, as well as other services."

There are plans to restructure the program into a video game that would function as a practical exam. This will allow students to make decisions while conducting computerized aerovac missions from start to finish, said Sergeant Curran. Another aim is to make this technology available via the internet so that airman in the field can use the program as on-demand familiarization and refresher training.

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