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Incentive flight gives graphic artist insight into pilots’ use of tablet computer

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | June 28, 2018


A special event in the career of a 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs graphic artist last week at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph provided him with a pilot’s perspective of a device that is transforming information management in the cockpit throughout Air Education and Training Command.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Tony Ervin, whose graphic design career as an Airman and civilian spans nearly 30 years, emerged from the cockpit of a T-38C the afternoon of June 21 after the 435th Fighter Training Squadron gave him an incentive flight that acknowledged his contribution to the creation of interactive in-flight guides and checklists for the Electronic Flight Bag, an iPad touch-screen tablet computer that contains digital versions of all mission documents.

“This incentive flight exposed Tony to our mission and the impact of his project on our flight operations,” said Maj. Erik Lugo-Escobar, who piloted the aircraft. “He’s worked on this project for many years, and with this flight he can see the fruits of his labors.”

Lugo-Escobar, a 435th FTS pilot who also serves as the 12th Operations Group EFB program manager, gave Ervin high praise for his composure during the 45-minute incentive flight, which included pulling several 5 G-forces during dogfighting maneuvers.

Ervin, who received moral support from his wife and two daughters prior to takeoff, said he was nervous at first, but the jitters quickly went away.

“The flight was great; I really enjoyed it,” he said.

Ervin said Lugo-Escobar kept in constant communication with him during the flight, which was especially helpful during the series of dogfighting maneuvers.

“He gave me a quick heads-up before he engaged a student pilot,” Ervin said. “I expected it to be like a roller-coaster, (but) I was pinned to my seat the whole time.”

During the last portion of the flight, Ervin pulled out the electronic flight bag, accessed some of the apps and was able to see the importance of pilots’ input as the EFB was developed.

“I was able to get a hands-on feeling for what pilots go through in the cockpit,” he said. “I saw the importance of where buttons are placed when they’re using the device.”

Ervin experienced the mobility limitations that pilots have when they are in the cockpit and was able to see why the color and size of text on the touch screen were important considerations when pilots look at the touchscreen.

“Now I understand what will and what will not work,” he said.

Ervin’s role in the creation of the EFB – the focus of an AETC Pathfinder test program spearheaded by the 12th OG – included transferring the print publications used by pilots to the digital medium, resulting in ease of access, increased efficiency and improved safety.

A single tablet contains the same information as the paper documents, including weather read-outs, terrain clearance charts, navigation information, normal and emergency checklists, flight pattern references and procedures, and instrument arrivals, approaches and departures.

Ervin, who is assigned to the multimedia section of the 502nd ABW PA office at JBSA-Randolph, actually started working on EFB products more than five years ago when he was tasked by the 558th Flying Training Squadron to transfer all the pages of their in-flight guide and checklist to the digital medium, a process he said “started from scratch.”

“I received the documents in PDF form and inserted them into page layouts, then linked them with buttons and hyperlinks,” he said. “One of the things I had to do was allow pilots to access any page from the first page in three clicks or less.”

Quick access to a page is a huge plus for pilots, Lugo-Escobar said.

“It’s much more efficient than using paper documents,” he said.

Aircraft-specific versions of the in-flight guides tailored to each squadron are now being used throughout the 12th Flying Training Wing at JBSA-Randolph. In addition to working on the local in-flight guides, Ervin continues to maintain the T-38C, T-6A and T-1A unit developed checklists and has also begun creating UDCs for the Air Force Academy’s fleet. These UDCs will be used by aircrews throughout the entire command.

“Others are now reaping the benefits of Tony’s work,” Lugo-Escobar said. “It has far-reaching effects throughout AETC.”

The optimized EFB products will only get better, Lugo-Escobar added.

“As technology improves, we’ll take it to the next level,” he said.

Lugo-Escobar called the relationship between the 12th OG and the 502nd ABW PA office a “win-win.”

“Multimedia has the skills we don’t have,” he said. “We get the benefit of their technical knowledge and they have an opportunity to support the mission directly.”

Ervin said the project means a lot to him.

“I am very proud of the project and the fact that I can contribute to the mission of flying training,” he said. “This is very big for the unit.”