Training for Realism

There are times when I forget how much I love writing. More often than not, I write… post… and forget what I have written – until I note an uptick in views and visits. Out of curiosity, I go back to try to understand the thread some random person was investigating, and I end up rereading my own posts as if the events were recorded by a stranger.

Today, I was revisiting Fear and Hilarity and this brought to mind my ongoing attempts to bring more realism into the training I conducted…

Waiting on the droop stops… FOB Speicher, Iraq, 3Sep2006. (Source: author’s collection)

In a garrison environment (non-deployed, peacetime operations), the idea of successfully replicating the stress of combat operations or actual in-flight emergencies is often overlooked due to the pressures of getting as many aircrews trained in the available time. The distractors of ancillary obligations such as schools, staff duty, and other taskings made for a daily scheduling nightmare and I had become quite adept in spinning those particular plates, and – perhaps in hindsight – creating stressful situations for those who were nearing the completion of their flight training served as a way for me to relieve (or transfer) some of that stress in a meaningful and productive manner.

Aircrew Coordination Training is the foundation of any and all aviation training, regardless of the airframe it is associated with. Throughout my time, the training itself evolved from locally-made PowerPoint presentations to formal training provided by Ft. Rucker. Broken down into 8 Elements and 13 Basic Qualities, the overall idea was to standardize not only how, but what and why information was communicated verbally amongst the crew. On paper, this is an idea which is logical and seemingly simple; in reality, it is often much more difficult to do… and when intentional deviousness is incorporated to increase the stress level (safely), then it can be as educational as it can be amusing – all of which lends greatly towards retention and later application.

Advocacy and assertion are practiced” was my one of my favorites. For those of us in the back, we relied upon our pilots to keep us intact and anonymous as we performed missions that were as complex as they were dangerous. With no access to the controls, we had to rely on terse recommendations when appropriate and firm insistence when absolutely necessary.

For this, I frequently arranged – prior to the flight – for the pilots to progressively stray from what was briefed and expected in the flight and slowly begin to directly challenge and contest each other on a particular course of action.

In one instance back in 2006, the pilots created a believably antagonistic and tense environment even before we completed taxiing from parking at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu. The medic and crew chief periodically glanced back at me as the pilots traded snarky comments about seniority versus authority, yet they remained reluctant to intervene. Even when we had taken off and were heading towards one of the many entry points to the Terrain Flight Training Area which encompassed much of the mountainous terrain in the northern part of the island, both crewmembers were silent…

17 Alpha and old “Black Route,” Oahu, HI, 15Apr2011 (Source: author)

“Hey – you see those wires at 17 Alpha? We can make it under those.”

The other pilot had the controls and doubted the outcome. “No… no, we can’t. What is with you today?”

“Maaan… I got the controls – we can make it.”

They began to gently rock the helicopter as they “fought” for control – one insistent, the other resistant, and both the medic and crew chief… silent. Having enough, I called it off and made quick notes for my debriefs.

Years later, this technique would have other, distinctly different, outcomes; the intent was always the same though – to get the backseaters out of the dangerous idea that they had very little input in the conduct of the flight. The intent of this method of training was always based in logic and safety: to endow each member of the crew with the responsibility of creating an intellectual “hive mind” of what was going on inside the aircraft as well as outside; at the same time, the training proved valuable for all involved. For the people I trained, it offered a chance to understand the importance of remaining involved, compartmentalizing and prioritizing stressors, and interjecting pertinent information. For me, it was an ongoing process of self-evaluating my own abilities and concepts of how and what I trained.

Creating realism in training proved to be one of my favorite aspects of being an instructor. From simulating incoming fire by banging the wooden wheel chocks on the floor, to initiating emergency procedures by announcing indications of visual or aural faults, to creating “intelligence briefs” where the trainee was cautioned to look for “threats” in the training area, the instructional value of cognitive stressors and communication allowed for reasonable flexibility and creativity in producing a viable training experience.

More training, Ft. Benning, GA, 12Apr2012 (Source: author)

More than anything, though, my training became more streamlined and relevant. To be approached by experienced pilots who commended folks I have trained in their assertiveness when interacting with individuals who valued their own ego over the fact that they were in the process of placing the aircraft in a dangerous situation… that justified my methods. Having crewmembers return from flights where actual emergency procedures – in one case, a dual-engine roll-back at 6,000 feet above the Pacific… miles from shore – and have them comment that their reactions were instinctive, calm, and rational for the immediate and follow-on considerations… that negated any reservations I might have had that I might have been over-doing it during their progressions.

In a recent interview, I was asked what I would like to do. After consideration, I indicated that I would like my efforts to be transparent to the customer. If it is product integration, then the complaints that we, as mechanics, had against the engineer who – seemingly out of malice – designed something poorly, I wanted those complaints to never happen. If it is management, then I want the process and people to work so cohesively and smoothly, that it would seem that I was redundant.

This is the basis of what my actions have been for many years – to provide instruction and instill effective and logical patterns that everything that has gone into those efforts just makes sense. After all, the effectiveness of a training and safety program should be difficult to quantify; how does one accurately measure the success of something which prevents accidents?

…Yeah, I miss it.

2 thoughts on “Training for Realism

  1. Reblogged this on DAVEBOOK and commented:
    All the attempts to make training “more realistic” accomplished on USS Michigan was to make them longer, more convoluted, more screwed up and more complicated.

    And yet, when the night came that we really needed all that training, it was as if we’d been doing it all our lives. Training works. And it stays with you for life…

    Liked by 1 person

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