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Flight deck crews on board aircraft carriers have one of the most dangerous work- environments in the United States Navy. A combination of heavy machinery and extreme weather conditions poses a serious challenge for those who are responsible for the safe launch and recovery of aircrafts.

Flight deck crews’ job is not only dangerous but also complicated, considering they the task of landing an aircraft on a short slab of steel in the middle of the ocean.  

Previously, flight deck crews could only conduct training while on the job. But thanks to a collaborative effort between the Office of Naval Research Global (ONR Global) TechSolutions program and the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD), a new technology called Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training Expansion Packs (TEPs) will deliver cutting-edge training to Sailors and Marines, according to

The system is an expandable framework of game-based immersive 3D technologies that allows for individual, team or multi-team training events.

“Having a simulator that allows us to tie the full flight deck team with all the key decision-makers, supervisors, catapult crew and watch stations together—and train in a virtual environment—is just fantastic,” said Cmdr. Mehdi Akacem, Air Boss aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

The first three TEPs will help a carrier’s Primary Flight Control team; the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) team; and the Catapult Launch Team.

The idea for the Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training came from an LSO instructor at Naval Air Station OCEANA. TechSolutions—ONR Global’s rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to address problems voiced by Sailors and Marines, usually within 12 months—listened to the idea and found the right people to make it happen.

Courtney McNamara, a computer scientist and the Advanced Gaming Interactive Learning Environment (AGILE) Team Lead at NAWCTSD, helped develop the technology.

“All of the ship systems, characters, flight deck crew characters and team members can be both driven synthetically or by live players,” said McNamara.

The training stations simulate real-life with the aid of virtual environments. Even the flight patterns that occur during the simulations are based on real flight patterns conducted by pilots.

The training can simulate normal operations and emergency conditions, exposing deck crews to a wide array of real-world scenarios.

“This is really the first example I’ve seen of extending the value of a simulation environment to such an essential, tangible thing as a carrier flight deck,” said Akacem. “It’s really a need we’ve had for years, one we’ve been able to get by without because of the grit and will of our Sailors and Marines.”