Story by Bruce Cummins on 07/02/2019PENSACOLA, Fla. Student naval flight officers (SNFOs) assigned to the "Warbucks" of Training Squadron (VT) 4 onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola are using a training aid that has significantly impacted students' comprehension, skillsets, and performance during their Advanced phase of undergraduate training.
Naval flight officers (NFOs) specialize in airborne weapons and sensor systems. They are not pilots, but may perform many co-pilot functions, depending on the type of aircraft. They start their initial training at NAS Pensacola with Initial Flight Screening and Aviation Preflight Indoctrination courses. They then begin Primary flight training in the T-6A Texan II aircraft, after which they are assigned one of two career paths, Strike Fighter, or Advanced Maritime Command and Control:
F/A-18F Super Hornet Strike/Fighter
E/A-18G Growler Electronic Attack
Advanced Maritime Command and Control
E-2C/D Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning
P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol
EP-3E Aeries II Airborne Reconnaissance
E-6B Mercury Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO).
SNFOs selected for Strike-Fighter go through the advanced syllabus flying the T-45 Goshawk with the neighboring "Sabrehawks" of VT-86. SNFOs selected for Advanced Maritime Command and Control go through the VT-4 advanced syllabus flying a simulator.
VT-4's Multi-Crew Simulator (MCS) is a series of Canadian Aviation Electronics (CAE)-designed crew stations that sport interactive software capable of running a series of scenarios programmed by instructors. It was designed to facilitate the training of basic NFO skillsets, something VT-4 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Chris Brown, a native of Desoto, Texas, said is a critical component of the NFO training pipeline.
"VT-4 is the only training squadron in CNATRA [Chief of Naval Air Training] that utilizes simulators for 100 percent of our training," he said. "We employ the MCS to teach basic skill sets for all 'big wing' NFOs. Our training curriculum harnesses high-velocity learning (HVL) concepts to ensure we are training the best NFOs in the world. This specialized training prepares SNFOs for operating their specific weapons systems and airborne platforms in the fleet."
VT-4 trains SNFOs to be integral assets in their respective E-2 Hawkeye, E-6 Mercury, EP-3 Aries, and P-8 Poseidon communities. At the squadron, SNFOs attend the six-month-long Advanced Maritime Command and Control Course (MC2), studying topics including international and military flight planning, sensor employment, and tactical communications. Upon successful completion of the course, students are then required to implement the learned techniques and procedures in the MCS, combining the multitude of sensors with a significant emphasis on crew resource management.
"The MCS teaches basic NFO skillsets it teaches them how to use a radar, an electro-optic camera or how to use a datalink, skillsets that all big wing' NFOs need to learn," Brown said. "Now we're teaching these foundational skillsets that each of these communities use and need before they move on to the schoolhouses, something which benefits the fleet through reducing attrition."
Although simple in appearance six "crew stations" through which SNFOs are observed and either a VT-4 or contracted instructor supervises the number of scenarios the simulator produces is significant. The system can generate scenarios that range from supporting a carrier strike group strait transit to assisting a disabled cruise ship, all drawn from real-world scenarios that NFOs have encountered, according to Lt. Celesse Hidrovo, the VT-4 Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance stage manager and assistant training officer.
"The nature of our simulator allows the flexibility to adapt to changes in the fleet and implement that here with our students and to ultimately provide a better NFO to the fleet," Hidrovo said.
The MCS was conceptualized in 2014, with CAE contracted to design a training mechanism incorporating basic NFO taskings. The result was the current MCS, launched as part of the VT-4 curriculum in September 2015. More than 650 NFOs have completed this training to date, with positive feedback from fleet replacement squadrons (FRS) and the fleet.
Brown added the increased familiarity students now have with the multitude of scenarios the MCS provides is invaluable to furthering the training mission.
"In the maritime patrol reconnaissance community, we teach surface search, basic anti-submarine warfare, crew resource management, multi-tasking, and internal and external communications," he said. "So as they finish advanced training here they move on to the fleet schoolhouse where they learn their initial platform. The Hawkeye community had a high attrition rate at the FRS anywhere from 10 to 15 percent and that number has been reduced to single digits due to this program, the MCS."
Lt. Matt Possley, the VT-4 assistant operations officer and E-6 NFO instructor, said the specific manner in which training scenarios can be programmed into curriculum results in a more realistic platform-centric training evolution. "We're now actually teaching toward an actual mission skillset for what they're going to be doing on the job."
In the past, the initial undergraduate training pipeline involved only classroom-based information with basic flight and co-piloting skills, according to Brown. Students were then sent to FRSs to train in their respective platforms, receiving experience and advanced training through hands-on training and further classroom-based instruction. NFOs were designated and presented the coveted Wings of Gold while at the FRS. Now wings are presented upon completion of the Advanced training at VT-4 prior to reporting to the FRS. Since CNATRA implemented MCS attrition rates at the FRS level have significantly decreased, Brown said.
Brown added that as training mechanisms continue to evolve within Naval Aviation, ensuring service members continue to receive the right training at the right time increases the organization's capabilities.
"The MCS has revolutionized training for the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE)," Brown said. "We're harnessing technology through a Ready Relevant Learning (RRL) perspective to push out warfighters to the fleet more quickly and more prepared than ever."
VT-4 is a simulator-driven training squadron designed to train, mentor, and lead the next generation of NFOs, and is located onboard NAS Pensacola.
For more than a century, NAS Pensacola, referred to as the "Cradle of Naval Aviation," has supported operational and training missions of tenant commands, currently including Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC), Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC), the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training (CNATT), Marine Aviation Training Support Groups (MATSG) 21 and 23, and is the headquarters for Naval Education and Training Command (NETC).