US Navy T-6B unit prepares to take lead on ‘Project Avenger’

Training Squadron 28 (VT-28) ‘Rangers’ at Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, is preparing to become the US Navy’s first undergraduate primary training unit to fully integrate the new ‘Project Avenger’ syllabus into its curriculum as part of the service’s Naval Aviation Training Next (NATN) initiative.

An operator of the Beechcraft T-6B Texan II, VT-28 will be the first of four undergraduate primary training squadrons to adopt this new syllabus – which has been specifically designed to update the Navy’s approach to producing higher quality pilots – from April 2023. The new ‘Project Avenger’ syllabus represents a significant change in the way the Navy trains student aircrews when compared with the service’s traditional ‘Charlie’ syllabus, which followed a more linear structure of simulated and live flying training events. Designed to be a syllabus that promotes flexibility, allowing ‘Project Avenger’ instructor pilots to make the most out of each training sortie and giving them the freedom to reintroduce procedures and techniques throughout the course of undergraduate training.

A pair of US Navy-operated T-6B Texan IIs fly together in formation during a training sortie over Florida on June 21, 2016.
A pair of US Navy-operated T-6B Texan IIs fly together in formation during a training sortie over Florida on June 21, 2016. US Navy/Antonio More

Commenting on the new syllabus, Capt John Hammernik – a ‘Project Avenger’ instructor pilot – said: “We’re making better aviators. Their flexible minds are able to adapt and handle changing scenarios. Implementing cross training with instruments, formations, and normal contact landing pattern flying, they integrate those elements and seamlessly switch between different contexts of flying.

“They [traditional student naval aviators] don’t integrate their formation training with their instrument training with their contact training. It’s all individual boxes. Now we’re trying to build them into an aviator with a more flexible mind, it’s going to be inherent in their DNA as a pilot,” he added.

The core of this new initiative is flexibility, as ‘Project Avenger’ is designed to help instructors make the most out of each training flight and to further enhance the training provided to student aviators. An example of this would be carrying out training flights in poor or cloudy weather conditions, which under the more traditional ‘Charlie’ syllabus would result in cancelled or incomplete sorties. ‘Project Avenger’ aims to mitigate these lost training flights by having the student pilot practice an instrument departure, travel to an area with good visibility to fly Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and then fly an instrument approach back to base, without the instructor feeling like the training quality has been devalued as a result of a cancelled or incomplete mission.

‘Project Avenger’ has already been trialled within VT-28, although it was operated under a detachment mentality. During the testing process, small numbers of students and instructors were trained independently in a dedicated classroom setting, which was separate to the wider VT-28 spaces. The initiative is now being expanded to cater for the entire squadron. With the integration of this new training syllabus, the entire organisation of the ‘Rangers’ will be reimagined.

Expanding on this prospect, Cmdr Sean Dougherty – the officer commanding VT-28 – said: “It’s a total culture change. It’s a total mentality change. We had to break the mould a little bit from what we were doing before into a new concept and re-establish business rules, re-establish the way the flight schedule comes together, so we could continue to execute efficiently on a daily basis.”

Ensign Ryan Quintal, a student pilot conducting his training under the ‘Project Avenger’ initiative is currently undergoing the final stage of the programme, which is known as the ‘mission phase’. During this stage, which is unique to ‘Project Avenger’, undergraduates must complete a considerable number of requirements within six-to-eight sorties.

Student naval aviators operate a T-6B Texan II flight simulator at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, during their undergraduate training on January 31, 2023.
Student naval aviators operate a T-6B Texan II flight simulator at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, during their undergraduate training on January 31, 2023. US Navy/Ensign Winslow Blow

“It’s like a capstone phase of training,” Quintal said. “You’ve learned everything that you need to learn in primary at this point. And now it’s just a matter of completing everything that I need to in the most efficient manner, while also being expected to adapt and flex in flight. For example, when all of a sudden your instructor says: ‘Simulated, the weather at your destination is not good. We have to go to our alternate.’”

Quintal completed his first solo flight in the T-6B after just four flights in the aircraft, an accomplishment he credits to the effectiveness of ‘Project Avenger’. “The amount of exposure we get in these virtual reality events, plus normal simulators, even before getting in the plane for a first flight is way more than you would have gotten in the old syllabus. The rate at which you learn in the plane is exponentially faster. You can definitely see and feel how much more comfortable you’re getting in the plane with each flight that goes by.”

The first pillar of the Navy’s NATN initiative focused on utilising technology, such as Immersive Training Devices (ITDs), which allow student aviators to use virtual reality headsets and see in 360° while simulating flight. These ITDs have already been integrated into the ‘Project Avenger’ syllabus and are available for students to use to practice procedures, develop sight pictures of the local area and refine their communication skills by talking to real air traffic controllers. This provides more enhanced student-instructor training before the undergraduate transitions onto more traditional simulators.

According to the Navy, live flying training is also empowered by ‘Project Avenger’, with flights tracking each students’ progress through the programme more closely than the traditional syllabus did. This allows training to be tailored to the specific needs of each individual undergraduate, with weaker students being more easily identified and allowing instructors to give them the necessary attention to guide them to meeting their training standards.

“There’s an opportunity here for higher expectations and a better aviator student,” Dougherty continued. “Students are really rising to that challenge. They are achieving more than I think they have achieved in the legacy syllabus… Quality is the fundamental reason to go to Avenger. Not only are they coming out better, theoretically they’re coming out faster. And we’re also doing it with less flight hours and less sorties, so that bundles into time to train, but there is also a real cost associated with that where we have some savings to capture.”