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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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U.S.

New US Air Force training jet Red Hawk augments reality

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The United States Air Force needs more pilots to fly its jets and bombers. But some turbulence in the training pipeline means the Air Force will miss its target for new aviators once again.

It’s a frustrating situation for the USAF. The service is already having problems recruiting new people to be pilots, and now it’s having problems training the people it already has in the pipeline.

The Air Force wanted to train 1,470 pilots in fiscal year 2023, but instead will finish 120 pilots short of the goal. Meanwhile, around 900 future Air Force pilots are waiting for classroom space to clear.

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For the most part, the Air Force currently relies on a fleet of T-38 Talons to train new jet jockeys. The Talons took to the skies starting in the 1960s, and the fleet lost a few birds along the way. A series of recent engine problems means they’re also flying fewer hours.

Thankfully for the Air Force, a new raptor is now airborne: the T-7A Red Hawk. The new training aircraft is the first to be designed in the 21st century. There were several delays in developing the Red Hawk, including problems with the jet’s ejection seat. But in early September, the Air Force took delivery of its first Red Hawk and will now subject the aircraft to its own rigorous flight testing.

The Red Hawk sports a glass cockpit and stadium seating for two. The single-engine aircraft features a modular design said to be focused on the maintainers. Red Hawks are also home to a nest of digital integrations that will all help train the next generation of American fighter and bomber pilots.

Boeing won the $9.2 billion contract back in 2018 to supply the USAF with around 350 Red Hawks. Last year, the company partnered with Red 6 to make sure the training will be commensurate with the craft.

Red 6 is a defense industry startup that has created what it calls the advanced tactical augmented reality system, or ATARS. The system uses an enhanced visual environment headset to deliver an augmented reality experience. So, whether it’s performing a roll, refueling, engaging enemy aircraft, or evading enemy air defenses, ATARS can create the proper training scenario and project the virtual images into the pilot’s actual field of vision.

“This is the future of joint training, combined training and coalition training,” said Tom Ferguson, president and COO of Red 6.

Ferguson and other leaders from Boeing and Red 6 celebrated the one-year milestone of their partnership at the AFA’s Air, Space and Cyber 2023 conference held in National Harbor, Maryland.

“Training has always been a strategic advantage that the United States has had,” Ferguson said. “But we can’t take it for granted. Because we’ve been able to out train our enemies and potential enemies, when we get to combat it’s actually easier than your training.”

In combination with ATARS, Red 6 also designed a system it calls ARCADE, which allows pilots and instructors to build complex virtual environments and collect data from all the missions performed in those environments. That data can then be used to create more impactful training.

“It’s all about learning from every mistake and making every flight better, like we’ve done in all of our training here in the United States.” Ferguson said. “So that ultimately, no matter who we go up against we can fly, fight and win.”

The Air Force had hoped to be flying its full fleet of Red Hawks in 2025, but delays set that delivery date back to 2027.

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THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE NEEDS MORE PILOTS, BUT SOME TURBULENCE IN THE TRAINING PIPELINE MEANS THE AIR FORCE WILL MISS ITS TARGET FOR NEW AVIATORS ONCE AGAIN.

IT’S A FRUSTRATING SITUATION FOR THE USAF. THE SERVICE IS ALREADY HAVING PROBLEMS RECRUITING NEW PEOPLE TO BE PILOTS, NOW IT’S HAVING PROBLEMS TRAINING THE PEOPLE IT ALREADY HAS IN THE PIPELINE. THE AIR FORCE WANTED TO TRAIN 1470 PILOTS IN FISCAL YEAR 2023, BUT INSTEAD WILL FINISH 120 PILOTS SHORT OF THE GOAL. MEANWHILE, AROUND 900 FUTURE AIR FORCE PILOTS ARE WAITING FOR CLASSROOM SPACE TO CLEAR.

FOR THE MOST PART, THE AIR FORCE CURRENTLY RELIES ON A FLEET OF T-38 TALONS TO TRAIN NEW JET JOCKEYS. THE TALONS TOOK TO THE SKIES STARTING IN THE 1960S, AND THE FLEET LOST A FEW BIRDS ALONG THE WAY. A SERIES OF RECENT ENGINE PROBLEMS MEANS THEY’RE ALSO FLYING FEWER HOURS.

THANKFULLY FOR THE AIR FORCE, A NEW RAPTOR IS NOW AIRBORNE: THE T-7A RED HAWK. THE NEW TRAINING AIRCRAFT IS THE FIRST TO BE DESIGNED IN THE 21ST CENTURY. THERE WERE SEVERAL DELAYS IN DEVELOPING THE RED HAWK, INCLUDING PROBLEMS WITH THE JET’S EJECTION SEAT. BUT IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, THE AIR FORCE TOOK DELIVERY OF ITS FIRST RED HAWK AND WILL NOW SUBJECT THE AIRCRAFT TO ITS OWN RIGOROUS FLIGHT TESTING.

THE RED HAWK SPORTS A GLASS COCKPIT AND STADIUM SEATING FOR TWO. THE SINGLE ENGINE AIRCRAFT FEATURES A MODULAR DESIGN SAID TO BE FOCUSED ON THE MAINTAINERS. RED HAWKS ARE ALSO HOME TO A NEST OF DIGITAL INTEGRATIONS THAT WILL ALL HELP TRAIN THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN FIGHTER AND BOMBER PILOTS.

BOEING WON THE $9.2 BILLION CONTRACT BACK IN 2018 TO SUPPLY THE USAF WITH AROUND 350 RED HAWKS. LAST YEAR THE COMPANY PARTNERED WITH RED 6 TO MAKE SURE THE TRAINING WILL BE COMMISSERATE WITH THE CRAFT.

RED 6 IS A DEFENSE INDUSTRY STARTUP THAT’S CREATED WHAT IT CALLS THE ADVANCED TACTICAL AUGMENTED REALITY SYSTEM, OR ATARS. THE SYSTEM USES AN ENHANCED VISUAL ENVIRONMENT HEADSET TO DELIVER AN AUGMENTED REALITY EXPERIENCE. SO, WHETHER IT’S PERFORMING A ROLL, REFUELING, ENGAGING ENEMY AIRCRAFT OR EVADING ENEMY AIR DEFENSES ATARS CAN CREATE THE PROPER TRAINING SCENARIO AND PROJECT THE VIRUAL IMAGES INTO THE PILOT’S ACTUAL FIELD OF VISION.

Tom Ferguson: This is the future of joint training, combined training and coalition training.

LEADERS FROM BOEING AND RED 6 CELEBRATED THE ONE YEAR MILESTONE OF THEIR PARTNERSHIP AT THE AFA’S AIR, SPACE AND CYBER 2023 CONFERENCE HELD IN NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND.

Ferguson: Our training has always been a strategic advantage that the United States has had, but we can’t take it for granted. Because we’ve been able to out train our enemies and potential enemies, when we get to combat, it’s actually easier than your training.”

IN COMBINATION WITH ATARS, RED 6 ALSO DESIGNED A SYSTEM IT CALLS ARCADE, WHICH ALLOWS PILOTS AND INSTRUCTORS TO BUILD COMPLEX VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS AND ALSO COLLECT DATA FROM ALL THE MISSIONS PERFORMED IN THOSE ENVIRONMENTS, DATA WHICH CAN THEN BE USED TO CREATE MORE IMPACTFUL TRAINING.

Ferguson: Because it’s all about learning from every mistake, making every flight better, like we’ve done in all of our training here in the United States. So that ultimately, no matter who we go up against we can fly, fight and win.

THE AIR FORCE HAD HOPED TO BE FLYING ITS FULL FLEET OF RED HAWKS IN 2025, BUT DELAYS SET THAT DELIVERY DATE BACK TO 2027.

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