Science and Technology News

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Columbus SUPT integrates tablets into mission

by 2nd Lt. Joshua Benedetti
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

2/14/2014 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Columbus Air Force Base is the first base in Air Education and Training Command to implement commercial mobile tablets into Department of Defense training. The base is being used at a Beta test site to determine the long term viability of a mobile tablet based Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training curriculum.

"No other base is doing exactly what we are doing. As far as training goes, this is the first time these have been deployed in a SUPT class," said 1Lt. Justin Davison, 14th Communications Squadron.

1Lt. Justin Davison collaborated with Capt. Bill Staley, 14th Student Squadron, and 1Lt. Kyle Hill, 50th Flying Training Squadron to develop the concept program over the previous year. The 14th CS purchased 12 Samsung Series 7 Slates in August 2013.

"We had to come up with a plan first and once we had that then we decided it made the most sense to choose class 14-12 because they were beginning in January," said Staley.

Seven SUPT students from class 14-12 in the 50th FTS each received a mobile tablet at the beginning of their T-38 curriculum which began January 15th. The 50th FTS was chosen because of the smaller class size, usually around seven students, and the building was already equipped with the approved AFNET wireless infrastructure, which the tablets require to run securely.

The goal of the Beta test period is to determine if mobile tablets are consistent with the AETC vision of transforming training at a lower cost while valuing Airman's time.

"If you look at students now they have their own tablets. You don't see them walking around with notebooks anymore, said Staley. It is a new way of education and a new way of learning."

The tablets are configured to operate on a secure wireless network allowing the users to remotely access their courseware anywhere inside the 50th FTS. This affords the students greater flexibility to accomplish much of the required coursework remotely. They no longer have to travel across base to the Computer Aided Instruction lab to take tests and complete courseware. Digital files of flight publications, mission planning documents and cockpit avionics study materials now reside on one paperless, secure device.

"You can do your mission planning, studying and flight prep on one device. It's a matter of increasing efficiency," said Staley.

By converting flight publications and other printed materials to digital files to be utilized on a tablet, the Air Force potentially stands to save money on printing costs. Additionally, this program could eventually eliminate the need for the base CAI lab which costs over $700,000 a year to operate.

"Now they can sit in the flight room with each other and do their CAI's and not have to go over to the lab, said Hill. It will save the Air Force a lot of money if it's done correctly."
Of all the perceived benefits of the mobile device program, the potential to return precious hours back to Airmen and eliminate inefficiencies may prove to have the greatest return on investment.

"Valuing airman's time is the cornerstone of this program. There are only 24 hours in a day so maximizing your time is critical, said Staley. Tablets are the way of the future. If we value Airman's time then this is the direction we need to go."

So far the feedback on the performance of the devices has been mixed. As is the case with most Beta tests, the program has gone through some growing pains. Initially, the devices had some problems connecting to the wireless network and student's also noticed the tablets suffered from chronic low battery life. However, they also noted the benefits far outweigh the limitations.

"The students like the availability and convenience of the tablets but as is the case with any gunny pig program you are going to have your hiccups to work out," said Hill.

The Beta test period will end in July when class 14-12 graduates. At that time the tiger team will consolidate all metrics, feedback and lessons learned and brief the wing leader before submitting their findings to AETC for evaluation.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg for what tablets can do," said Davison. "We know it's going to take some time, but I think this is the direction we need to go. Let's change the way we do business."

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