Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Aviation environmental training is the key to success when operating in high, hot, heavy and dusty conditions. With the fourth quarter of the fiscal year approaching and the increase in summertime training operations tempo (OPTEMPO), now is the time to tune up and ramp up the unit environmental training program. Within the program, don’t forget to train your aviators to think — from prior to cranking the auxiliary power unit and all the way through until the blades stop and are tied down.
Many times, units go through the motions of executing their unit environmental training program, feeling pretty good when they check off the block in the master training calendar and aircrew training folders. Assuming the unit aviators are prepared to go, fight and win in high, hot, heavy and dusty environments on the upcoming National Training Center rotation or deployment to theater, the commander feels confident that his crews can execute the mission safely and not end up in a mishap. But are they really trained and ready? Is the program providing the appropriate level of rigor, from the classroom academics to simulator training and aircraft scenarios designed to put the crews in the most demanding situations that may be encountered and training the aviators to think?
The unit environmental training program should contribute to the “reeducation” each year of the unit aviation personnel. Within this reeducation, the program should teach the basics; but it should develop along further to incorporate training your aviation personnel and, for this article’s intent, your aviators to think. There are many Army publications and other sources that can be used to develop training for environmental conditions — whether summer, winter or degraded visual environments. Chapter after chapter has been written on the subjects and many elaborate specifically on rotary-wing flight due to its nature of being in closer proximity to the ground versus fixed-wing operations at higher altitudes. Yet, programs don’t necessarily teach and train aviators to think.
Incorporating the thinking portion of training into a unit’s program is not a demanding task. Yet, it is a task that can influence the outcome of a dangerous situation, whether that outcome is an after-action review or a Class A mishap. Commanders should ensure their unit environmental training program has a well-documented program of instruction (POI) that institutes training aviators “how to think” into academic training, simulator training scenarios and, when possible, aircraft training when conditions allow. If your POI doesn’t include how your team will train aviators to think, then it’s time to dust off the POI and update incorporating this training into your program. Information on POI and unit training programs can be found in Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 350-70-9, Budget and Resourcing, and TRADOC Pamphlet 350-70-1, Training Development in Support of the Operational Training Domain.
Whether you realize it, during flight, an aviator’s mind is continually executing numerous thought processes. New aviators, who often find themselves behind the aircraft, realize this more than seasoned aviators. The human brain has what is referred to as neural plasticity, the capacity of the nervous system to modify itself, functionally and structurally, in response to experience and injury. Aviators experiencing new situations tend to think through the possibilities and outcomes. Aviators who have higher amounts of flight hours and more numerous experiences tend to automatically respond due to experiences in similar situations informing subconscious decision-making.
Programs don’t necessarily teach and train aviators to think. One definition of thinking is: the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something, a consideration of options based on expected outcomes from feedback and stimuli. Deliberate thinking and real-time decision-making must be a continuous process because situations are always in flux due to outside influences and inputs made to achieve the desired outcome. We can teach people to make better decisions through past lessons learned, exposure to a wider range of experiences, increasing the number of “experiences” and following a deliberate decision-making process. The ability to teach a person to think, which some may find “undefinable,” can seem demanding. But implementing training scenarios that require in-depth planning and force aviators to utilize deductive and inductive reasoning can help unit trainers bridge the gap between automated responses with little or no thinking and deliberate, real-time decision-making that applies reason and thought.
Based on aviator experience, unit training programs must account for new aviators and those with a vast amount of experience. To train them, you should understand where they are cognitively. An example would be a newly arrived aviator right out of flight school. This aviator has limited experience and therefore utilizes more “thinking” due to new situations. They can be very easy to train to think through situations. On the other hand, for seasoned aviators, it is demanding to train them to think anew due to their previous experiences and more automated reactions to situations.
Unit standardization personnel must continually evaluate the unit aviators and apply training situations that force seasoned aviators to think through a situation. If you are using the same simulator and/or aircraft environmental scenario every year, your training program may pass the “flew in high, hot, heavy and dusty” conditions, but it has done nothing toward training your seasoned aviator to think and not just automatically react. This can be the difference in returning to the assembly area safely or your unit pre-accident plan being activated.
Take the time now to review the unit environmental training POI, canvass the unit aviator experience levels and utilize this information to produce an effective program that incorporates training aviators to think and not just act without thought. The unit will gain dividends of a more effective aviator in the cockpit who can think through the challenges of high, hot, heavy and dusty operational conditions, resulting in no mishaps. Unit OPTEMPO is high for aviation units, especially during the demanding conditions of the fourth quarter of each fiscal year. This is why now is the time to review, update and execute your environmental training program, incorporating training your aviators to not just act automatically, but to think and act.