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Air Force Flight Simulators May Help Cut Training Costs

Can more simulation cut flight training costs?

 

Flight training is costly. The Air Force spends roughly $2.6 million to train a fighter pilot and roughly $600,000 to train an airlift pilot. The Navy spends a similar amount to train carrier aviators. With U.S. defense spending set to decline amid Super Committee deliberations, reducing the price of producing pilots will be one of many “cost efficiencies” the armed forces must find.

Could increasing the use of simulators in undergraduate pilot training significantly reduce its cost?

When it comes to flight training, one of the most common cost-saving suggestions is the increased use of simulators, saving airframe hours, maintenance, and fuel. Seems logical, but following through is far from simple. Could increasing the use of simulators in undergraduate pilot training significantly reduce its cost? The answer appears to be a definite … maybe.

Flight simulators at Warrior Hall

Flight simulators at Warrior Hall help U.S. Army Flight School XXI students learn flight techniques and instrument control without the aid of actual aircraft. Recently, flight students passed the 250,000-hour mark in TH-67 Creek simulator training. U.S. Army photo

For insight, Defense spoke to both the Air Force’s Air Education & Training Command (AETC) and the Navy’s Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) but it should be pointed out that the U.S. Army has apparently decided that flight training simulation can lower its costs. The Army’s Flight School XXI program at Fort Rucker, Ala. is moving to make contractor-provided simulation the major part of initial flight training for its pilots.

A commercial team led by CSC has built a new 136,000-square-foot facility at Fort Rucker dubbed ‘Warrior Hall,’ which hosts 38 aviation training simulators. CSC is responsible for all aspects of the facility from building security to simulator and facility operations and maintenance. In a separate government facility, collective training consists of 18 reconfigurable training devices that can communicate with each other and be reconfigured into a specific aircraft with exchangeable panels and software.

The contractor team has worked with the Army to adapt its basic syllabus to allow the service to meet its long-term training objective – several months of 60 percent simulation and 40 percent live training. This balance of simulation and live flight represents a revolution in basic flight training.

The Navy and Air Force (USAF) have yet to make such a commitment to the use of simulation.

The Navy and Air Force (USAF) have yet to make such a commitment to the use of simulation. Obviously, the scale and breadth of their respective training commands differ markedly from the Army, but both express degrees of inclination to head in the same direction.

John Gillis is the Undergraduate Flying Training Pipeline Manager, A3F Undergraduate Flying Training Standardization Division, Headquarters AETC. He makes the point that the current Air Force live flight/simulator training balance varies from pipeline to pipeline. Primary training that all USAF pilots go through in the T-6 Texan II demonstrates the current emphasis on live flight. The division between live flight and simulation events is 65 percent/35 percent. That equates to about 87 hours in the aircraft and 46 hours in the simulator.

For the airlift/mobility pipeline where students fly the T-1 Jayhawk, the current balance is similar, 71 percent of events occurring in the aircraft and 29 percent in the simulator. This will shortly change, however. The USAF is working its way through a “tech refresh” of its T-1 simulation devices, which will grow significantly in capability. With T-1 flight training total time scheduled to drop to 130 hours, the pipeline will move toward a 60/40 percent live flight/simulator split by 2013. This represents 76.5 hours of aircraft time and 53.5 hours of simulator time.

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...