JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
With just a few clicks, a spray gun and virtual reality goggles, instructors at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy are using new software to teach proper painting techniques – in the classroom here and across partner nation countries – without wasting a drop of paint.
The academy has used different versions of the paint simulator in the past, but the latest 4D technology allows mobile training teams to travel with the equipment and provide instruction with real-time results while eliminating expenses. The original software was purchased at an estimated $30,000, with the latest addition averaging $10,000. The cutting-edge technology is helping to reach more partner nation students.
“The upgrade of the system will help us take it anywhere, anytime with minimal effort,” said Master Sgt. Juan De La Rosa, 318th Training Squadron, “A” Flight Chief. “This gives us unlimited hours of practice without spending money on materials and exposing students to hazards.”
The simulator, which is packed into a medium hard-plastic case, can be set up in just minutes and provides users with instant feedback: marking areas in green when the correct amount of paint is used, blue to indicate more is needed and red to show too much paint used. Aside from helping painters become more effective, it also helps protect aircraft from corrosion, which De La Rosa explained is the leading cost of maintenance repair in the Air Force.
“Properly applying paint is vital to the protection of metals used in aircraft construction,” De La Rosa said. “Too much paint and you add weight to the aircraft; not enough paint and you run the risk of corrosion developing.”
Students who attend IAAFA’s Structure and Corrosion courses spend four weeks in the classroom and train on the paint simulator for the last two weeks of the course. The virtual simulator prepares students to learn the necessary techniques before they step into the paint booth.
“Putting you in that setting is going to help you become more proficient in what you do,” said Staff Sgt. Julia Reyna, 318th Training Squadron Structures and Corrosion Instructor. “It’s all about getting comfortable holding that paint gun and developing that muscle memory.”
In approximately one month, Reyna and De La Rosa will deploy to support U.S. Southern Command in a mobile training team. This will be the first time they will travel to support the mission since COVID-19 struck.
“It was hard on us because we lose the hands-on capability that we normally provide here,” De La Rosa said. “I can’t pick up a sheet metal shop and take it with me, but this helps us take our paint booth with us anywhere.”