AF Reserve flies without paper

The Air Force Reserve is completing a proof-of-concept demonstration designed to
replace hundreds of pages of bulky, paper manuals used by flight crews in aircraft
cockpits with electronic publications and forms.


Using a Panasonic CF-25 ruggedized notebook computer and sample data stored on a
CD-ROM, a reserve unit at Grissom Air Force Base, Ind., has been testing the Paperless
Electronic Aircraft Cockpit (PEACOCK) in a KC-135 flight simulator.


The service designed PEACOCK for tanker aircraft, such as the KC-10 and KC-135, and
transport aircraft, such as the C-5, C-17, C-130 and C-141. Fighter aircraft like the F-16
don't require PEACOCK because the pilots already use heads-up displays for quick reference
of relevant flight information.


Following the flight simulator demonstration at Grissom, the 19th Refueling Group at
Robins Air Force Base, Ga., will test PEACOCK in an operational setting on a KC-135.


The four-member KC-135 crew--a pilot, co-pilot, navigator and boom operator--must deal
with an avalanche of standard Air Force and reserve publications, including technical
orders, airfield suitability reports, runway approaches and abbreviated flight checklists.


What's more, under a separate initiative, the service is reducing the number of crew
members in some KC-135s from four to three, making the crush of paper even more
burdensome.


The PEACOCK CD-ROM can be updated and disseminated a lot quicker than paper documents,
said Leland Bice, chief of the Publications and Forms Management Branch at Air Force
Reserve headquarters on Robins Air Force Base. The CD-ROM, which includes the most
up-to-date standard Air Force publications and information, stores files in the Adobe
Acrobat Portable Document Format.


Meanwhile, the Air Force Flight Standards Agency is working with the Defense
Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency to develop a prototype electronic
database of flight approaches into military airfields and runways around the world. After
the information is digitized, the Air Force will add the data to the PEACOCK CD-ROM.


The on-board PEACOCK application will include other tools such as flight planning
software, flight crew information files, weather programs, e-mail, fax and printing.


Cost is a major factor driving PEACOCK. The estimated cost to outfit the crews with the
necessary hardware and software is less than what the Air Force already spends on
printing, distributing, storing and posting paper publications, Bice said. Electronic
publishing already saves the Reserve $8 million annually, he said.


"So far, the flight crews like the concept, but there are still some improvements
and recommendations that they had that we're looking at in order to deliver them a better
product," Bice said.


The Air Force Reserve picked the Panasonic notebook because of its rugged construction.
But there are some features that the CF-25 does not have that crews need in the cockpit,
such as a lighted keyboard, Bice said.


"Although it's ruggedized and crews can certainly perform their tasks," he
said, "the Panasonic is a real pain to operate because to use the floppy drive, you
have to remove the CD drive."


The Air Force Reserve is considering the idea of replacing the notebook computer with a
mobile pad that is bigger than a palmtop computer but is connected to a server. Crew
members could strap the computer, with touch-screen controls that use radio frequency to
link to the server, to their legs. Plus, officers on the ground would be able to update
data in real time.


"We'll probably be testing other equipment," Bice said. "We do think
that the notebook, though, will play an integral part in this. Because what the crews
really want is notebook portability, something they can take off of the airplane for
mission planning and then bring back aboard later."


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