JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Aircrews throughout Air Education and Training Command will soon be benefiting from a test program spearheaded by Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s 12th Operations Group that will improve information management in the cockpit.
The Pathfinder project, which is called Electronic Flight Bag, or EFB, is allowing instructor pilots and students at 12th Flying Training Wing squadrons to use iPad touch-screen tablet computers rather than paper publications as their primary means of information management when they are flying.
“What we’re basically doing is transferring paper pubs to a digital medium for ease of access, increased efficiency, accuracy and efficiency in our data recall,” said Maj. Earl Arnold, 12th OG EFB program manager. “It’s a tool for enhanced situational awareness and mission efficiency.”
The use of EFBs in the cockpit is not new to the Air Force, but is new to AETC, which turned to the 12th OG to carry out the Pathfinder project. Pilots in the Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command are already using tablets for information management.
The use of tablets in the 12th FTW and throughout AETC will better prepare students when they move on to ACC or AMC, Arnold said.
“They’re being issued technology there that they’re going to have to learn on the spot,” he said. “If we can download that information to the training environment when they first enter, we can get that training done sooner so they can learn more and learn faster.”
The EFB program is consistent with the 2018 AETC Strategic Plan’s emphasis on emerging technologies, Arnold said.
“Although EFB is simply a medium for digital flight publications and its support infrastructure, at the strategic level it’s a foundation for big-data analytics in an effort to evolve human capital into what Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, AETC commander, is calling Mach-21 Airmen,” he said.
In the cockpit, tablets are providing aircrew members with greater ease of access to the information they need to plan and execute their missions, Arnold said. A single tablet carries the same information as multiple publications, including weather read-outs, terrain clearance charts, navigation information, normal and emergency checklists, flight pattern references and procedures, and instrument arrivals, approaches and departures.
“Specific to flight, we have several different publications that we carry in the aircraft,” Arnold said. “It’s all paper publications, so when you need to find something, you need to manually scroll through it, find the exact page, try to work your way through those pages and get to the exact page, be in sync with your instructor, and then use that. The iPad increases my efficiency in finding information and helps me distill large amounts of information into a single source for ease of access and speed that I can obtain it.”
Maj. John Rostowfske, 559th Flying Training Squadron evaluator pilot, said the use of EFBs “frees up additional focus for critical flying actions versus having to use paper products, which can often be a hindrance within the cockpit.”
“EFBs also allow for quick and easy planning in diverting situations, when unforeseen events require it,” he said. “In general, while paper works, future aircraft within and without the Air Force have already transitioned to EFBs and sticking with paper products doesn’t help prepare our students for the airframes they are going to fly.”
Rostowfske said he’s seen improvement in general knowledge of his aircraft, the T-6, because of the tablet’s ease of access.
“In flight, especially when leaving the local area for unfamiliar airfields and locations, it provides me with instant, quick and accurate situational awareness that paper just cannot provide easily,” he said. “EFBs remove tasks like flipping through paper booklets from the flying equation. They enhance safety and allow focus on mission-critical items.”
The EFB Pathfinder program comprises three phases that transition from use of the tablet only in good weather to nearly exclusive use of the tablet, Arnold said.
“Our T-1s and T-38s are all in phase 3, the final phase,” he said. “This means they can use the iPads all the time, in all kinds of weather. We will only carry the bare minimum essentials of paper pubs as predicated by the squadrons.”
The program also involves the testing of mounting solutions, which include kneeboards, suction cups and permanent fixtures, and the use of flight information services-broadcast pucks, which Arnold described as technology that allows pilots to receive aeronautical information like weather, traffic and airspace restrictions through a data link to the cockpit.
The 12th OG is aiming for a program end date of May 1, when AETC Instruction 11-270, the EFB governing regulation, is also scheduled for completion, Arnold said. The AETCI will then be submitted to Kwast for approval.
“Once he signs that, we’ll push the program out to the rest of the wings and then they can employ iPads in their cockpits,” he said.