COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Air Force Academy (AFA) is always looking for new ways to increase pilot training. With facing challenges from Colorado weather to the Coronavirus pandemic, they need something a little more hands-on.

Jake Jones is the Flying Team Flight Commander for the 557th Squadron, and he said virtual reality (VR) sims are primarily for the cadets. The AFA now using the mother of all simulators the A.T.D to experience and fly virtually.

“It’s a 270° field of view full functioning T53 simulator, so it has, that’s it’s capability you can actually place that T53 anywhere you want in the world it has a global map,” said Jones.

It’s critical equipment, not just for those with experience.

“I haven’t flown since October because of Covid and weather, but being able to step into something like this the moment I get back into an aircraft itself, I’ll be more comfortable than going just cold turkey without going with any preparation, said Cadet 1st Class, Durkin Ross.

But also for those completely new to aviation, even letting FOX21’s Krista Witiak take the yoke.

“So it’s a simple as you have someone who’s never been in a plane before, let’s just show them where all the buttons are in the plane, let’s show them where the throttle is,” Jones said. “These smaller aircraft have a mixture which adjusts your fuel intake and everything like that. Let’s just show them where everything is laid out; take it super slow, and that way, when they get into the plane, it just speeds everything up for them.”

It’s real-tme experience in a safe environment. The simulator allows instructors to create custom scenarios.

“I can just hit play and watch you react to it, and it allows an element of surprise like it would be in the aircraft, but it also allows the cadet to get a practice rep out of a potentially life-threatening situation and still recover from it feel comfortable doing the actions and understanding what’s going on,” Jones added.

COVID is still affecting operations a bit, with routine sanitizations and social distancing. But the AFA says the protocols and price are all worth it.

Cadet 1st class Durkin Ross said, “Other flight schools across the country are shutting down because of manpower or health concerns. We still have the ability to inspire people, train people, and get them fired up about getting potential Air Force pilots in the future even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The virtual reality simulators and the ATD are all helping the Academy keep cadets in tip top shape so they can fly those T53’s!