Scheduling training is about to get easier for C-17 crews

Scheduling training for C-17 Globemaster III pilots and crew is about to get easier with the launch of Puckboard, a data-powered software application to plan aircrew qualification flights automatically. The tool, developed by and for Airmen, allows schedulers to rapidly match aircraft commanders, pilots, and loadmasters with available flights to complete currency requirements such as aerial refueling and tactical training events required throughout the year.

The digital interface, which will start using live data March 20, enables planners to visualize flight schedules and generates recommended schedules for each crew member while taking into consideration required qualifications, crew rest and conflicting events.

Previously, the process required Airmen to shuffle ‘pucks’ around a whiteboard to determine the best match manually – often taking a 10-20 person operations team several days to produce a viable plan for the week, with changes frequently required at the last minute. With Puckboard, events are automatically populated in a matter of seconds, allowing planners to dedicate additional time to developing more individualized and dynamic training for each crew member.

“Before Puckboard, the process of scheduling training was slow and outdated,” said Capt. Eric Robinson, 15th Wing Aloha Spark team and director of the newly established agile software development effort dubbed ‘TRON’ at Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii.

“We are now at the beginning of a complete overhaul (of the scheduling process), starting with the current Puckboard product, that will continue to be improved until the old process is an afterthought.”

According to Robinson, the team’s goal is to help provide “the tools and technology that Airmen need to be able to refocus on their training, families and the mission.”

Puckboard also enables easier schedule modifications when conflicts occur, like mechanical issues and mission changes, for example. With more adaptable and consistent planning, the development team expects to see more productive training sorties and better utilization of allotted squadron flying hours.

“Twenty first-century technologies like Puckboard can have a tremendous impact on Air Force readiness and its ability to generate combat capability, not only by saving Airmen time and effort, but by optimizing how we fly, train and utilize our assets,” said Roberto Guerrero, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Operational Energy, whose office is supporting the initiative.

The team of Airmen and contractors at TRON began the project in September 2019, utilizing work already completed with the Defense Innovation Unit and the Marine Corps on a similar initiative for the MV-22 Osprey fleet. By February 2020, they were able to create a Minimally Viable Product on an Air Force Cloud One secure platform.

“By using open source architecture, we’re demonstrating how the Air Force can use off-the-shelf code to develop and execute effective software quickly,” Robinson continued. “Our goal is to make this type of platform the new standard for mobility operations.”

While the first phase of development is complete and Puckboard is being implemented for the C-17 fleet, the team and AFWERX are hosting a “Datathon” in the coming months to improve the application further.

With support from the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate, TRON has begun the next step of integrating with the Aviation Resource Management System to ensure the tool can expand, scale and synchronize with existing systems of record. The team aims to make the source code available by request inside of Platform One, the Defense Department’s combined software delivery capability, for any DoD team in need of a similar solution.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Tien Phung (left) and Maj. Stan Schmotzer (right), 701st Airlift Squadron C-17A Globemaster III pilots, perform pre-flight checks on the aircraft before conducting a local training sortie at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. March 5, 2020.

Maj. Tien Phung and Maj. Stan Schmotzer, 701st Airlift Squadron C-17A Globemaster III pilots, perform pre-flight checks before conducting a local training sortie at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. March 5, 2020. (U.S Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

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