Airfield management brings imagination to reality

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The 334th Training Squadron teamed with the 81st Training Support Squadron, trainer development flight, to create a revolutionary new training aid for airfield management students.

The model airfield, which was devised in November 2013 and completed in December 2014, will increase understanding, productivity and efficiency in the classroom.

"The model airfield was inspired by the need for students to understand 'imaginary surfaces,' a concept that traditionally eludes airmen," said Staff Sgt. Courtney Polnicky, 334th TRS instructor. "With the addition of the model airfield we can implement a tangible training aid to information that was figuratively and literally imaginary."

A two-sided table, the training aid has one side that represents the "imaginary surfaces" surrounding an airfield and an opposite side that gives a practical representation of an airfield.

The side with the practical model is not unlike the final projects completed by students in the airfield management apprenticeship course and -- although it is not to scale -- the layout consists of everything found on a suitable airfield.

Before the model, instructors were at the mercy of PowerPoint or their own drawing abilities to show representations of airfields to students.

"It's a billion times improved compared to me drawing a runway on the board," said Staff Sgt. Korey Papa, 334th TRS instructor. "I don't know how many times I'd start to draw something and then find out I didn't have enough room."

As for the side of the table with imaginary surfaces, there has never been anything like it before, said Polnicky.

"We're trying to explain something imaginary to someone who has no idea what they're looking at," he said. "These are invisible barriers that free up the flight line and airspace, so that a pilot can be confident that everything is going to be out of the way of an approach. Nothing can be taller than these 'surfaces,' so as airfield managers you have to be able to visualize these surfaces."

These imaginary surfaces branch out roughly ten miles in all directions from the runway and creating a visual representation of them had not been easy.

The process began with a model made by a student, explained Tech. Sgt. Link Collier, 334th instructor supervisor.

From there, it grew into what it is today with months of work by the trainer development team and input from the instructors. The team at trainer development built everything from scratch, from the wiring inside the table to the 3-D printed objects on the airfield side and the Plexiglas surfaces on the 'imaginary' side.

"These models give us everything that we teach all in one area," said Papa. "While we teach we can take away and add on to the airfield as we need to. It's invaluable."

Through funding and engineering hurdles, and after 2,500 hours of hard work, the tables were completed in time for next year's first airfield management students. The course itself is 27 academic days and graduates an average of 150 students a year, according to Collier.

The training aids were built so they can be improved upon as the course progresses and even be used outside the classroom for other base functions that require practical representations for teaching.

"The 334th TRS is continuously searching for innovative ways to make our training realistic, relevant and effective," said Maj. Steven Mullins, 334th TRS director of operations. "This airfield training board provides our students with that type of training and in an easy to understand manner. This board can easily be incorporated at every airfield in the Air Force. Hopefully, our idea can be adopted and used to support airfield management upgrade training across the Air Force."