News | April 10, 2024

Gold Star Awarded for Radar ATC Trainer


Identify an issue and work to resolve it. That kind of work ethic exemplifies one of the most recent Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal winners, Lt. Cmdr. Sam Hughes, who worked with TechSolutions, at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global, to create a new, more efficient way to train radar operators.

Hughes came up with the idea to use a simulation program for training radar operators while working as the Air Traffic Control (ATC) Integrated Product Team (IPT) lead at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD).

When training new ATC operators, Hughes said he needed two instructors for every trainee, and the training could only take place when the radar scopes were not being used to control aircraft. In addition to manpower and equipment limitations, another issue was the lack of standardization in training methodologies.

“So, we have PQS—performance qualification standards—and they have line items that you have to master before you can get qualified on any position,” Hughes said. “Even though the line item might say, and this is just an example, radar vectoring—one controller might teach it one way while another controller teaches it differently.”

The new radar simulator trains up to 14 people at one time with a standardized training method.

Hughes originally suggested the idea of a radar simulator to the ATC Trainer Management Team, which was updating the training program at the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. They liked the idea but did not have the resources. So, a colleague, then-Lt. Joe Mercado, encouraged him to contact TechSolutions.

The training module, called Dynamic Air Traffic Control Refresher Training System (DARTS), is now being delivered to 35 Navy and Marine Corps sites.

Jason Payne, director, TechSolutions, said the dedicated radar operator training system took less than 12 months to develop. Once they had a prototype, it was transitioned to a Program of Record through the Naval Aviation Training Systems and Ranges Program Office General Training.

“We knew this was a warfighting need that new technology could solve, and something we could help facilitate. So, we asked the Naval R&D community for ideas on how it could be done, and we made an award to the NAWCTSD team to perform the development,” Payne said. “The NAWCTSD team delivered a solution that allows a longer period of time for uninterrupted training with a realistic simulator that delivers information more effectively, and now new radar operators will be better equipped for a position of critical need in the Navy and Marine Corps.”

Payne added that DARTS is a great example of what can be achieved through the ideas submitted by Sailors and Marines. 

“They are in a unique position to tell us what they need to carry out the mission the Department of the Navy has asked them to do. They have the knowledge of what would make it better, easier and more effective, and we can help them with the technology to do that,” Payne said.

While Hughes’ name is written on the certificate from the Department of the Navy, he stressed it was a team effort that helped push the new radar operations training forward. Mercado helped him with the forms and contact information for TechSolutions. He also gave credit to Stephen Lane, NAWCTSD assistant project manager and ATC subject matter expert, who stayed in close contact with ONR Global TechSolutions throughout the process.

“The entire IPT team was pivotal. Cathy Bosarge was the NAWCTSD systems engineer. She worked well with Courtney McNamara, the Advanced Gaming Interactive Learning Environment (AGILE) team lead. AGILE worked hand and hand with the NAW TSD ATC team and the fleet to ensure that what they delivered was exactly what the fleet needed,” Hughes said.

“This is 100 percent not me. It was a team effort and as soon as we get it out to the fleet and it works, that’ll be the greatest award I could receive.”

Hughes recently received his Gold Star, awarded by the Secretary of the Navy, for “professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving in supporting the Air Traffic Control (ATC) training simulation technology development with the Office of Naval Research Global TechSolutions.”

Written by Rebecca Ward with the Office of Naval Research.