Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, TX --
Inside the 560th Flying Training Squadron, between the flight operations desk and aircrew flight equipment, there is an office with "12th Operations Group Design Team Lead" printed on the door. The office is occupied by Travis Stillwell, a 360 video and virtual reality expert, who shoots, edits, and produces pilot instructor training content for the 12th Flying Training Wing. As a private pilot in his own right, Travis works on the cutting-edge of VR technology and has proven himself to be a master craftsman in his field.
Where are you from, and what did you do before entering civil service?
I’m from Lake Tahoe, California. I was running my visual effects and design business when someone reached out to me about my experience in virtual reality. I was hired to create VR and 360-degree training content and help develop the 360 flight simulators that are now being used across the Air Education and Training Command.
What is your callsign, and what does it mean if you can say?
My callsign is “FLUX” and it comes from what I do, as it is synonymous with flow and change. What I am doing for the Air Force is creating new types of training while still holding onto proven methods from the past and bringing them together so that they flow seamlessly.
What do you do for the 12th Operations Group and 560th Flying Training Squadron?
I am the 12th OG Design Team lead in the innovation department. I create VR/360 pilot instructor training content at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. Over the last year, I began helping the 560th FTS in their innovation department to bring Pilot Instructor Training forward into the future with VR/360.
Walk me through the process of making a 360 training video for PIT instructors?
It starts in the briefing room where the mission is briefed. Once in the aircraft, I mount my 360-degree cameras to the canopies and in various positions in the cockpit. I record each event in the sortie that we want to turn into training content that students can view at any time during their training.
Once the flight is over and debriefed, I take the footage and begin editing. For the T-38 Talon aircraft, I add digital instruments and in-flight audio to the videos. Once that is done, we add voiceovers and call-to-actions to highlight any specifics that need to be focused on. Once the video is complete, I upload them to VR headsets for students to take home.
It gives students a greater understanding of what they will be doing before ever having flown the missions and a tool to watch training content if they need to reference anything they feel they could work on more.
How do these videos make our instructor pilots better?
The end goal is to provide a virtual experience with real cockpit footage that can be viewed on the ground. This saves a lot of time for everyone involved and allows mistakes to be corrected on the ground instead of in the air, saving time and money.
Tell me why VR and 360 videos are the wave of the future?
Commercial first-person view VR headsets allow hobby drone pilots to feel as if they are in the drone aircraft itself allowing for very precise flying. With FPV googles, it changes everything, so the pilots see everything from the aircraft's perspective, I think that technology is cutting edge and the wave of the future.
Explain the difference between VR, 360, and augmented reality?
Virtual reality, or VR, is a 360-degree user experience with virtual reality goggles worn on your head and covering your eyes. Wherever you look, you are seeing your full surroundings. You can now experience this in video games. It provides a fully immersed experience. Taking you out of your living room and into a completely different space. Augmented reality, or AR, has been around for some time and is still being developed for consumer use. You see your typical environment but have computer generated images, or CGI, overlays dropped into your vision.
You are very active on social media. How have you inspired other potential pilots to join the Air Force?
It just kind of happened on its own, as so many young people send me messages asking questions, about becoming an Air Force pilot. Some have questions about their vision, and I tell them you can still be a pilot even without perfect vision. I take the time to explain to them what I know and point them in the right direction.
Recruiting is a total force initiative. What are your thoughts on the best way to reach the next generation of pilots?
Social media is the number one way people consume information now. For my account, it works well because people are very excited when someone they are a fan of responds to their questions and has a real conversation with them. There are already Airmen with huge followings on social media and tapping into those audiences to interact with their followers in my opinion is a great way to reach young people.
For more information about joining the Air Force or becoming a pilot, call 1-800-423-USAF or visit www.Airforce.com.