Innovative app improves training for KC-46 pilots

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell
  • Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs

With new aircraft and systems comes the task of setting up programs to train aviators. Members of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron updated the training process by releasing a mobile application for their Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).


The app emulates the KC-46 flight and navigation computer software, the Multi-Function Control and Display Unit (MCDU), to allow students to study the MCDU in their free time. 


“All of our pilots in the squadron became qualified in the KC-46 within the last year and a half,” said U.S. Air Force Lt Col. Derrick Baker, the assistant director of operations assigned to the 56th ARS. “When we were going through training, we really wanted to know what the menus and paths looked like for different inputs and screens in the MCDU. The technical orders we received from Boeing didn’t have a schematic for the MCDU pages, so Maj. Piranio and his team had to manually go to the aircraft and map out how the menus interconnect and what inputs to put on each page. The app idea came about because we thought our training could benefit greatly from this type of technology.”


The key creators of the project were Maj. Jacob Piranio, the 56th ARS operations flight commander as the lead subject matter expert who worked directly with the app developer and Maj. Robert Buckley, an operations officer assigned to the 97th Training Squadron, who also assisted with the app development.


“One of the most challenging tasks when pilots learn to fly a new aircraft is learning how to navigate through the menus and pages of the MCDU,” said Baker. “Since students can practice navigating the hundreds of MCDU pages during their study time with this app, this allows time for instructors to focus on other training areas with the students during valuable simulator and flight time. Instructors can also use the app when briefing and debriefing with their students as a visual aid to help describe how to use the MCDU in different phases of flight.”  


According to Baker, being able to simulate a functional interior of the KC-46 saves time and money by utilizing the application to allow ease of access and training time.


“The KC-46 MCDU is extremely complex with hundreds of menus, each with many inputs and background calculations,” said Baker. “An emulator app that functioned exactly like the aircraft could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead the 56th ARS worked with the app developer to efficiently use the limited innovation funds budget of $10,000 for the most critical 100 pages with partial functionality to meet the goal of speeding up the learning curve of students with the complex MCDU.” 


Student pilots on the KC-46 will be able to experience this innovative way of learning when training at the 97th Air Mobility Wing.


“We’d like to highlight that this training tool will make it easier for pilots to learn to navigate the complex menus of the MCDU by having access to an MCDU emulator when they are not in the simulator or aircraft,” said Baker. “Our hope is this App will not only improve the quality of students we produce but also help reduce the course length in the future.”