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Fueling Innovation: Barksdale Airmen seek Extended Reality Air Refueling Trainer.

Photo of a KC-135 Stratofortress flying with its fuel boom extended.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 93rd Bomb Squadron approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker prior to an in-air refueling over Europe, Sept. 15, 2018. Two former flight instructors at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana are working to develop the prototype for an extended reality air refueling trainer for student pilots assigned to the B-52 Formal Training Unit at the base. (courtesy photo)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

Two Barksdale Airmen held a webinar last month at STRIKEWERX in Bossier City, Louisiana to begin prototype development for a proposed B-52 Extended Reality Air Refueling Trainer.

Lt. Col. Warren Carroll, 307th Bomb Wing director of innovation, and Maj. Mark Budgeon, assigned to Air Force Global Strike Command, proposed the project to provide better in-air refueling training for students in the B-52 Stratofortress Formal Training Unit here.

 The webinar was designed to gain insight on how to best develop a model that can be used by FTU students. It included over 150 representatives from academia, government, and private industry. The effort, part of a partnership with AFWERX, highlighted the desire to speed innovative training that ensures the pilot’s ability to effectively complete long-range missions.

“B-52’s need to get fuel in the air so we can accomplish our mission of projecting power across the globe,” said Budgeon. “We want to build a system that will have students ready to hit the flight line so we can teach them how to accomplish that mission.”

Carroll and Budgeon both served as instructors for the B-52 FTU before their current assignments and have first-hand experience with issues that can hinder the curriculum.

Currently, students must wait to get training on how to perform in-air refuelings with tankers. Limiting factors like logistics, maintenance, and weather can negatively impact training opportunities.

“We only have a week to practice air refueling and the coordination with tankers can be difficult,” said Carroll. “If jets can’t take off on time, or we have to contend with bad weather like our recent winter storms, then we can lose a whole week of training.”

Other environmental factors can also be a problem. Budgeon explained that B-52 pilots must be able to conduct air refueling in challenging environments at any time, including darkness. But training opportunities for these scenarios within the FTU are limited.

 It is hoped the prototype will allow students on-demand access to practice these scenarios in a realistic virtual environment, affording them ample opportunity to practice air refueling in a variety of scenarios.

Carroll and Budgeon explained that after the input at the webinar, they will be able to create specifications they would want to see in a trainer. From there, multiple businesses can bid on it.

The prototype will be funded by the Office of the Chief Scientist at AFGSC through STRIKEWERX.  If it proves to be a viable solution, it may be made into a working model that can be used at the FTU.

Budgeon, who is on active duty, and Carroll, a Reserve Citizen Airman, began working on the problem independently after leaving their instructor assignments at the B-52 Formal Training Unit.  Carroll introduced Budgeon to the Office of the Chief Scientist at Global Strike Command, who then championed the project.   LR WERX, the 307th Bomb Wing AFWERX spark cell at Barksdale also contributed to the project with the technical expertise that supplemented the effort.