Nick Gibbs Reflects on a 35 Year Career in Simulation and Training

Simulation and Training

“The evolution of the technology has been remarkable,” Nicholas Gibbs commented as he reflected back on his 35-year career in modeling and simulation. Gibbs recently announced his retirement as Vice President and General Manager of Simulation Solutions & Services at Collins Aerospace. Before he headed into his last industry conference, I/ITSEC 2021, we caught up with him to talk through the evolution he has seen in modeling, simulation, and training and to get his thoughts on how the industry must prepare for the future.

“At the very beginning of my career, the state-of-the-art visual systems were blocky and cartoonish,” Gibbs reflected. But that wasn’t the only difference. Gibbs noted that the barriers to entry were huge in the industry’s beginning, but that over the course of his career, those barriers were dramatically reduced as technology advanced.

Gibbs’ investment in simulation and training was more than purely a faceless business pursuit. Gibbs recalls the many moments throughout his career that made him proud – from educating customers needing simulator expertise to winning key programs that delivered training solutions the customer desperately needed. He proudly remembers the many customer wins from the teams that developed the Close Combat Tactical Training (CCTT) system for PEO-STRI, to the F-35 Visual System, to the integrated training programs for the E-2 Hawkeye aircraft.

It’s hard to capture the technology’s evolution during Gibbs’ long career, but he was fortunate to have a front row seat during changes. Along the way, there were several major technology advances – from PC based image generators to game engines – that transformed the industry and enabled realism in training to what it is today.

“For 25 of my 35 years in this industry, we’ve been talking about the live, virtual, and constructive convergence,” he said. “Today, not only has LVC become a reality, but it’s also critical to prepare the warfighter in the connected battlespace. Technology accelerants such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, and high-definition displays have extended the reality and fidelity of training and offers advanced real-time capabilities to help the warfighter train as they fight.”  

In today’s environment, training and operations happen across multiple domains that require the warfighter to take data from multiple sources and quickly make decisions. “Think about what is required for the 6th generation aircraft.” Gibbs explained how the data from the aircraft is delivered to the pilot while also provided to the dismounted solider on the ground and the rest of the connected vehicles in the air, on the ground, or sea. “That requires a considerable shift in training across the multi-domain battlespace to ensure that the warfighters have what they need in this accelerated environment.”

As Gibbs heads into his final I/ITSEC conference, he is grateful that the conference organizers found a safe way for everyone to attend in-person. He noted that the community is a tight one, where your competitors are also collaborators and friends. “It’s a positive environment to work in,” he commented, making it easier for the industry to collaborate to ensure that the needs of the customer are met. “We always need to remember it’s human lives that this business is aimed at protecting – whether it’s commercial airlines or warfighter – so what we do matters.”

That feat requires continued innovation, Gibbs highlighted, and working collectively. This also includes opening the doors of opportunity to a younger generation. Referencing a local intern program, Gibbs noted that the emerging group of professionals bring a unique skill set to the table. “They help teach us new tips and tricks because they’ve been immersed in new technology as part of their daily lives,” he noted. “In return, they work alongside the people who helped create the industry. I would offer that both groups of people should take the opportunity to listen and learn from each other.”

That’s good advice from this industry veteran, as we head into I/ITSEC 2021 where industry, customers, academia all come together to accelerate training into an unexpected future.