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Sergeant Rewarded for Trainer Design

Sergeant Rewarded for Trainer Design

By Staff Sgt. William Seabrook Jr., 16th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs.

Hurlbert Field, Florida -- (AFPN) December 4, 2000 -- A 19th Special Operation Squadron sergeant here has been named the inaugural winner of the Air Force Modeling and Simulation Achievement Award. Master Sgt. Kenneth Taylor received the award for developing the Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer which provides realistic interactive training for threat avoidance during hostile anti-aircraft engagements.

Master Sgt. Kenneth Taylor, 19th Special Operation Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., flies the Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer which he designed to provide realistic interactive training for threat avoidance during hostile anti-aircraft engagements.

Courtesy photo

"The primary objective of VTRAT is to provide crewmembers a training solution that improves mission success and survivability by affording (them) the opportunity to practice through repetitive interaction with anti-aircraft threats in a safe environment prior to real-world engagement," said Taylor. "Additionally, we're able to evaluate the student's performance to a 90 percent measurable accuracy level."

Taylor, an AC-130 gunship illuminator operator/loadmaster with 18 years of gunship experience, conceived the idea for this trainer as a result of his personal anti-aircraft threat engagement experiences, especially the combat missions during Operation Dessert Storm.

The trainer was originally developed to train AC-130 gunship crewmembers, but it can be useful to all Department of Defense aircrews, Taylor said. Upon completion of phase three of the four-phase development process, VTRAT will be incorporated into 62 formal Air Force courses, providing initial qualification, annual refresher training and mission rehearsal simulation for more than 1,000 Air Force Special Operations Command crewmembers.

"We didn't have the tools to properly prepare our people to interact with ... anti-aircraft threats back then," he said. "Our threat avoidance training up to that time consisted of watching old films and listening to other fliers' experiences. This led to dangerous consequences, i.e. crew-members completing their training on the battlefield over real threats, and not in an academic environment. The first time you got shot at was the real deal..."

Taylor related his Gulf War combat experiences and how his crew, Spirit 01, had operated over the same environment, that only three hours later, took lives of 14 fellow commandos on Spirit 03. That loss, he said, was his motivation.

"It was really hairy over there," Taylor said. "We were accomplishing missions that stretched the envelope of survivability at such low and slow profiles. You learn to focus quickly in environments like that, or you don't get to see another day standing. I have often contemplated why did I survive that environment while others didn't?

"I hope that in the eyes of God, the development of VTRAT will provide crewmembers the skills required to return home safely to their family members and will be seen as not squandering my blessings of surviving the threat engagement experiences," he said. "Each of us is responsible for training the next generation of air commandos and it's to what degree of intensity we apply ourselves in this effort that determines the quality of tomorrow's force."

Taylor conceptualized this trainer from the ground up, said Maj. Scott Moore, 19th SOS Distributed Missions Operations flight commander. He saw the need, wrote a mission needs statement, briefed requirement review boards, and then got AFSOC and ultimately the Air Force vice chief of staff to approve it.

Once that was done he took the idea to the Air Force Research Lab at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. At AFRL he worked with a group of scientists as well as computer graphics engineers to design the system.

"His tenacity and drive to see this thing through saved the Air Force more than $6 million in research costs and cut more than three years off the development time," Moore said. "He was a man on a mission and he wouldn't be side-tracked by technicalities; by taking 'no' for an answer when it's contrary to sound judgment. He's truly one of the quiet professionals."

The computerized trainer uses three-dimensional imagery to portray incoming antiaircraft fire. The crewmember then has to make the appropriate defensive decision in order to evade the threat. Because of its network architecture, the program is adaptable to any crew position on an aircraft.

"(Taylor is) not doing this for personal gain," said Senior Master Sgt. Garry King, 19th SOS/DMO superintendent. "He's trying to protect current and future fliers by allowing them to learn from his experience in a real-world environments. Four hours after receiving initial training, the crewmember has experienced more than 400 enemy threats and his or her reaction to those threats has been evaluated."

As far as receiving the award Taylor says he feels humbled and thankful people are recognizing his work.

"Modeling and simulation is the future of the Air Force because it provides cost effective and safe real-time interactive training to aerial crewmembers," he said. "We used to have build mock-ups of structures on a bombing range and then attack them. We can now do a great deal of that in simulation."

Networks of individual simulators linked to different geographically separated simulators is the spearhead in the mission rehearsal and planning tools. This affords crewmembers and mission commanders pre-mission evaluation and calibrating prior to generating a single sortie and the associated cost.

Taylor will travel to Washington, D.C., Jan. 11 to receive the award from Dr. Jacqueline Henningsen, the associate director for modeling and simulation at Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).