BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana --
The running joke in the U.S. Air Force bomber community is that you don’t fly the B-52 Stratofortress; you wrestle it. But there is nothing funny for students in the B-52 Formal Training Unit trying to perform their first in-air refueling in the jet.
Last Thursday’s fly-off competition at StrikeWerx here brought together hardware and software vendors competing to provide the Air Force a training solution for in-air refueling, arguably one of the most challenging aspects of flying the B-52.
LRWERX the 307th Bomb Wing’s AFWERX spark cell, focused on getting the proper software for the project.
They teamed up with Air Force Global Strike Command and STRIKEWERX to bring in Specular Theory, a California-based software technology company, to develop the virtual reality trainer software.
Last year, the company was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase III contract from the Dept. of Defense to begin development.
“We’ve spent a terrifying amount of hours developing the software,” said Morris May, CEO of Specular Theory. “But when you think about how much we’ve accomplished building simulation software like this from scratch, it’s been amazing.”
May’s company, which has also developed similar software for the C-17 Globemaster, the KC-46 Pegasus, and the KC-135 Stratotanker, created the Experiential Air Refueling Lightweight Simulator (EARL) to deliver training.
“This is the first time something this lightweight was accurate enough to give meaningful dynamics needed to fly the plane,” said May.
According to information on the company website, the simulator has a built-in instructor that enables individual, team, and multi-aircraft training on one system.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Budgeon, 307th Operations Group director of innovation, helped to spearhead the LRWerx effort to bring in the new software and marry it to the appropriate hardware.
“This is the culmination of a year of very hard work, and I’m excited about this day,” said Budgeon. “The potential impact of a trainer like this is huge.”
Two hardware companies, Vertex Solutions and VR Training, were the finalists in the fly-off, both vying to run Specular Theory’s software. An announcement regarding the winner is expected later this month.
EARL is the second virtual reality collaboration between LRWERX and STRIKEWERX. The two entities teamed with King Crow Studios to launch the Virtual Reality Procedures Trainer (VRPT) back in 2020.