Night vision goggle instructor course trains Airmen to enlighten the dark skies

  • Published
  • By Sean Bowlin
  • 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs
A course taught by three Randolph Air Force Base physiologists and an instructor pilot is showing experienced aircrews how to use night vision goggles safely -- so they, in turn, can train others to do so.

The first portion of the day and a half Night Vision Goggle Academic Instructor Course is mostly pure academics, and is taught by 1st Lt. Eric Chase and 2nd Lt. Shannon Piecek, 359th Aerospace Medicine Squadron physiologists.

"We spend the majority of the course talking about what NVGs won't do for you and what their pitfalls are," Lieutenant Chase said. "We tell them the 'why' here."

The two lieutenants, overseen by Maj. Lance Anicelli, 359th AMDS flight commander and course director, tell aircrews about basics of night vision and NVG terminology, with a liberal dose of physics, chemistry and biology; NVG technology and adjustment procedures; and how to pre-flight focus and mount NVGs with and without aids. A formal course, this NVGAIC is just one of many courses offered by the physiology flight. The NVGAIC provides experienced aircrew advanced instruction on how to use night vision goggles safely, how the unaided eye functions in low light conditions, as well as how night vision (aided) devices work.

"Our course is designed to educate and build on the basics to ensure there is a solid foundation with which to support the student's home station airframe-specific training," Major Annicelli explained."The use of NVGs is a perishable skill and requires a constant infusion of competence and proficiency to ensure the proper use of this technology. NVGs are nothing more than sensors and therefore the human system processing the information is one of the weakest links. We strive to point out the human factors that combine with the technology which gives us better situational awareness in the air."

Major Anicelli said the idea for the course came after the first Gulf War, where pilots were "pretty much thrown a pair of NVGs and were told to make us proud."

What that made instead was physical stress and strain for aircrews busy with seeing inside the cockpit, outside the cockpit, checking instruments, communicating on radios, watching terrain and firing weapons while trying to adjust their eyes to seeing a lit battle space at night through a 40-degree field of vision.

"When they were focusing the NVGs on their own, they got a huge headache," Major Anicelli said. "Here, we make sure they focus them right."

Lieutenants Chase and Piecek focus their students by accompanying important class knowledge with occasional foot-stomps.

"That way we, as instructors, give tips on how to build your own class syllabus as we teach the students," Lieutenant Piecek said.

Besides focusing and adjusting the night vision goggles, students are also introduced to a unique computerized virtual terrain board, showing them the effects of illumination, moon angles, shadows, terrain and cultural features. The VTB allows projected images which can only be seen through the use of NVGs.

"Both aircrew and equipment are important to providing the proper training," he added.

The second portion of the course is taught for a half-day by instructor pilot Maj. Michael Matesick, 19th Air Force staffer and F-16 pilot experienced in NVG use. He volunteers his own time to teach and is not assigned as a permanent course instructor.

Major Matesick teaches up to 10 Airmen at any one time about the operational environment in which NVGs are used -- the field of view, scanning techniques, illumination sources, shadows, terrain features, lighting -- and windscreen and canopy effects. He also instructs on common performance threats and factors that contribute to visual misperceptions and illusions while wearing NVGs. Those factors include, but aren't limited to, visual cues, depth perception, terrain, altitude, weather and aircraft concerns.

Finally, he teaches about NVG operator issues -- like fatigue, spatial disorientation, ejection hazards, ground operations, mission planning aids and task loading.

Major Matesick said he learns something new every time he teaches his phase of the course.

"Sometimes it's a better understanding of how different airframes employ using NVGs. Other times it's an anecdote or a war story that drives home a point about the importance of meaningful NVG training and its relationship to combat habit patterns," he said.

Major Matesick derives a lot of satisfaction from his teaching NVG survival skills to those who will pass on that knowledge to a large audience to make Air Force pilots better and safer at night. He said the course provides a means to distribute lessons learned from across the Air Force and ensures all NVG instructors have a coherent, standardized approach to teaching NVG fundamentals to upgrading pilots.

"That way, instructors at the squadron level can build on that knowledge by providing airframe-specific techniques and tactics," he said.