First Class Completes Naval Aviation Training Next - Project Avenger
by U.S. Navy Anne Owens, Chief of Naval Air Training
April 7, 2021
The first class of 19 student naval aviators completed Naval Aviation Training Next - Project Avenger at Training Air Wing 4, Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi on April 1, 2021.
Project Avenger is a prototype primary flight training syllabus designed to develop a more capable, self-sufficient aviator, proficient in a dynamic and fluid environment, and to do it more efficiently than the current training program to increase fleet naval aviator readiness.
“Project Avenger is revolutionizing Naval Aviation undergraduate primary flight training,” Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff said. “Our innovative team developed, refined, and implemented the program and this first class of primary completers is a testament to the entire team’s hard work and dedication.”
Challenged with addressing a shortage of strike fighter pilots in the fleet, CNATRA examined the primary flight-training curriculum, which had not seen significant changes in more than 50 years. Project Avenger leverages modern technology to optimize training and uses a student-centric model that tailors timelines to skill development unique to each student.
December 17, 2020 - Instructor pilot Navy Lt. Paula Register oversees student naval aviators Marine 1st Lt. Andre Demarinis, left, and Navy Ensign Chris Nance as they conduct virtual reality trainer flights during Naval Aviation Training Next - Project Avenger ground school at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker)
Students enrolled in the traditional primary syllabus take an average of 29 weeks to complete. Project Avenger aims to increase students’ information retention, lower attrition rates, and increase skill level, while also reducing time to train. Project Avenger Class 1 began Sept. 14, however, record-breaking cold weather in South Texas and the global COVID-19 pandemic became challenges that contributed to an increase in projected time to complete.
Replacing the towering stack of books, publications, and checklists normally issued, Project Avenger students get a digital tablet with on-demand, 24-hour access to aviation-specific apps and pre-loaded course content. Students also use the tablets for flight planning, briefing, and in-flight navigation. Virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality trainers, and 360-degree videos allow students to witness real-world flight training events, for example, an engine stall or recovery from a tailspin. Pairing these virtual reality trainer devices with realistic flight controls increases aircraft procedural familiarity before a student ever steps into the cockpit of the primary trainer aircraft – the T-6B Texan II.
“Increased use of technology was one of our pillars going into this experiment,” Lt. Cmdr. Josh Calhoun, Project Avenger officer in charge said. “Technology improvements enabled a restructuring of introduction of aviation skillsets. Live Air Traffic Control training capabilities allowed our students to practice skillsets well before a traditional primary student. We were able to introduce visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument approach procedures in a real-time trainer much earlier.”
In a significant paradigm shift, students had access to a pool of seven dedicated Project Avenger instructors. The traditional syllabus does not allocate specific instructors to students thus, for Project Avenger students, this allowed the student-instructor relationship to develop early in training and led to greater instructor mentorship and involvement.
Ensign Andrew Harding, from Lafayette, Louisiana, is a 2019 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the first class of Project Avenger and said he benefited greatly from this modified approach.
“Project Avenger had a classroom where all of the instructors and students worked,” Harding said. “This atmosphere allowed for a continuous learning experience where students were constantly asking questions and building a firm foundation. The instructors from both Training Squadron (VT) 27 and VT-28 were phenomenal, and my on-wing was one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. He would often hold meetings for the entire class over Zoom to go over common errors or flying mistakes.”
December 17, 2020 - A virtual reality trainer screen, part of Naval Aviation Training Next - Project Avenger ground school at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker)
While the traditional primary syllabus is linear in nature, Project Avenger uses deep repetitions allowing students to achieve mastery of a skill and progress through the syllabus at their own pace, benefiting their learning experience. If a student is struggling, their instructor can remediate and provide additional support as necessary.
“It’s exciting, challenging work for the students because they are learning multiple topics at once,” Lt. Jeffrey Pentz, Project Avenger operations officer said. “Ultimately, when they are in advanced, they will have to jump between different profiles of aircraft. I think Project Avenger has given them that practice, changing lanes quickly and pulling from various disciplines.”
Marine 1st Lt. Rachel Hardinger, from Lakewood, Colorado, and a 2012 graduate of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, also completed Project Avenger and will continue to Helicopter Training Squadron (HT) 28 in Milton, Florida. Upon earning her Wings of Gold she is slated to fly the MV-22 Osprey.
“My biggest takeaway from Project Avenger is that being a naval aviator requires a great deal more than being technically accurate,” Hardinger said. “We had to use critical thinking throughout our training to determine the best course of action while also taking a wingman into consideration. This phase of training was very difficult but I believe it gave us a small taste of what we will deal with in advanced training and ultimately in the fleet.”
Training Air Wing 4 is the parent unit for two primary flight training squadrons – the “Boomers” of VT-27 and the “Rangers” of VT-28. Although students were administratively assigned to either the Boomers or the Rangers, the class wore a combined patch and students considered themselves one team. After they completed, the students’ respective commanding officers informed them of their follow-on training pipeline selections – strike, maritime, rotary, or tilt-rotor. The second Project Avenger class is slated to begin in May and will include some slight curriculum adjustments.
Project Avenger is currently offered at Training Air Wing 4 only but the program is expected to expand to Training Air Wing 5. Future Naval Aviation Training Next program development includes expansion into a T-6B strike intermediate syllabus (Project Hellcat), an advanced T-45C Goshawk strike syllabus (Project Corsair), and all other aviation training pipelines.
Project Avenger is named for the aircraft flown by naval aviator and former President George H.W. Bush, who commissioned in the U.S. Navy Reserve June 9, 1943 at age 18, becoming one of the youngest naval aviators in history. He earned his Wings of Gold at NAS Corpus Christi.
CNATRA trains the world's finest combat-quality aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that is where it matters, when it matters. Headquartered at NAS Corpus Christi, CNATRA comprises five training air wings in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas, which are home to 17 training squadrons. In addition, CNATRA oversees the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron the Blue Angels and the training curriculum for all fleet replacement squadrons.
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