Vance innovators fuel AFWERX summit, share lessons learned

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts & Tech. Sgt. James Bolinger
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – The Airmen leading the charge on Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 at the 71st Flying Training Wing shared their success and challenges with more than 100 Airmen, Guardians and Soldiers during a summit hosted by the AFWERX Las Vegas Hub, June 22-25. 

AFWERX is the innovation arm of the Air Force. It’s a team that focuses on finding talent and creating partnerships to leverage expanding technology to solve real-world problems by empowering spark cells like the one at Vance AFB. 

UPT 2.5 is the next evolutionary step to Air Force pilot training. Its focus is to improve Airmanship – situational awareness, decision making and task management -- by exploiting 21st century technology, in addition to changing teaching methods and exposing students to syllabus content earlier.

Vance’s Spark Cell was created in 2018 when Air Education and Training Command leadership asked the installation to do a deep dive into the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training curriculum and find areas of improvement, said Maj. Kinsley Jordan, a founding member of Vance’s innovation arm and an AFWERX Summit instructor. 

The team worked with Pilot Training Next at the AFWERX Austin Hub and 19th Air Force to eventually roll out a curriculum that awards an Air Force pilot their wings after seven months of training instead of one year.

Today’s pilots earn their wings in the T-6A Texan II before graduating to the T-1A Jayhawk or the T-38C Talon. In those airframes, similar syllabus changes and technological solutions have led to a different way of giving T-6 graduates their first specialized aviation training. 

During the T-6 phase of training, students spend time in virtual-reality simulators before and after getting in the cockpit. These events give instructor pilots the ability to provide students realistic repetition using an easily accessible and low-cost platform.

Additionally, new students now have access to academic materials including video lectures before they start formal training. 

19 AF is currently assessing the feasibility of scaling UPT 2.5 across all UPT bases, effectively using these collaborative efforts to advance training from its World War II era roots into the 21st century.

The success of UPT 2.5 is a significant reason Jordan teaches at AFWERX summits and helps budding spark cells at other bases get their wheels off the ground. 

The goal of spark cells across the Air Force is to find solutions to real-world problems. This works because they begin at the grass roots level, said AFWERX Spark Cell lead Capt. Garret Custons. Airmen with a first-hand assessment of the identified problem are being empowered by leadership to use their technical knowledge to solve the issue. 

Of the courses Jordan teaches at AFWERX Summits, his favorite is the “war story” about creating UPT 2.5. Specifically, how little wins lead to big wins. 

Imagine trying to eat an elephant in a single bite, Jordan said. The creation of a new pilot training curriculum didn’t happen overnight. It was a big problem that needed to be broken down in order to solve it. 

One of the first problems the team tackled was by identifying a single hurdle that had derailed innovation efforts in the past – high-speed wireless internet access. Without it, student and instructor pilots would not be able to use iPads for mission planning and course work, he said. 

Justifying procurement and ensuring all Department of Defense security concerns were addressed took time. But by figuring out how to get high-speed internet access for the flying squadrons, the first “bite” of the UPT 2.5 elephant was taken.

Vance’s Spark Cell is just one of the many successful hubs across the Air Force whose veteran innovators provided resources and guidance for people just getting their programs started at the AFWERX Summit.

The network that is formed at these gatherings allows Airmen from different bases, major commands and missions to share ideas and solve problems across the Air Force, said Jordan. 

The Vance Spark Cell’s work on UPT 2.5 will have a lasting impact on how the Air Force trains the world’s most elite aviators, said Col. Jay Johnson, the commander of the 71st FTW.

However, its larger legacy may actually be the Airmen who are right now teaching the next generation of Airman innovators who will solve future problems more daunting than UPT 2.5.