News: Practice makes perfect: Task Force XII pilots use simulator to improve skills
By Sgt. Brandon Little
Task Force XII Public Affairs Office, Multi-National Division – Baghdad
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – "You've got half a tank of gas, and you have to get back to the airfield, but you have to fight your way (through enemy combatants) back to the airfield" said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Ladd, the production control officer and maintenance examiner for 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "It's a challenge to see if you a can engage all of the targets before they get you, and make it back to the airfield before you run out of gas."
Ladd is describing one of the possible scenarios provided for participants in, what has been called by many, the world's most expensive video game.
The Longbow Crew Trainer, a multi-million dollar flight simulator, provides AH-64D Apache Longbow pilots the opportunity to maintain their proficiency in mission tasks and flight procedures.
"(The LCT) is classified as a full motion trainer; which means, when you sit in the seat, it's going to feel and react like the real aircraft does," said Brad Carter, a LCT program manager and a retired master aviator. "It gives the aviators a chance to practice emergency procedures that may not be safe to practice in the real aircraft, or in this environment, (like) shutdown and restart an engines in flight or lockup flight controls."
Pilots going through flight school have to start out in a trainer, similar to this one, to familiarize them with the aircraft before they get in the real thing, said Ladd, a native of Brooksville, Maine.
"I've probably used the (Longbow simulator) more than 100 times, and as far as simulators go, it's probably one of the most reliable and realistic ones I've used (since) I've been an aviator," he said. "It allows us to get in some good training without having to go up and do it in the aircraft, which could lead to problems."
In the simulator, a programmer controls what scenarios the flight crew may experience during their training.
"This screen displays the actual environment (hazards such as) the sand and buildings; it's the threat," said Dan Smee, a LCT programmer and retired Apache pilot. "I can turn those threats on and off; I can make a new threat; or I can let the flight crews develop a scenario and add to or take away from the scenario to make it seem more realistic."
The programmer also monitors the flight crew's actions and communications during the simulated scenarios to help them become more proficient pilots, said Smee.
The flight simulator is physically designed to resemble an Apache cockpit, with the use of actual parts from the aircraft, so certain steps must be taken to keep that equipment working and functioning properly.
"Like every other piece of Army equipment, we have our normal preventive maintenance (checks and services) we do on daily basis," said Carter. "We have a preoperational flight test, that the inspectors do to make sure everything works properly, and when the flight crews are done we have a post flight inspection; (it's) just like the real aircraft."
Communication between the crewmembers is also improved by the simulator because they are positioned on opposite sides of the room instead of being two feet away from each other, said Smee.
"This Longbow simulator also provides us an opportunity to train on gunnery engagements and tasks without actually having to go out and pull the trigger on real ammunition," said Ladd. "We have full range of our different types of (weapons), from hellfire missiles to 30 mm rockets, to fire in the simulator."
The crew can engage enemy forces generated by the simulator, which can vary from an individual person with a weapon to an entire army with tanks and helicopters.
There are 23 of these mobile simulators located all around the world and they can be easily loaded up and flown, or driven, to any location that has Apache pilots, said Carter.
Even though scenarios, like the one of fighting through enemy forces on the way to the airfield, are his favorite part of the simulator, Ladd says, it definitely feels more realistic than a video game and it provides beneficial training.
"Everybody benefits from this simulator because the more proficient the pilot is, the better they are at their job, which means their able to (successfully) support troops on the ground," said Carter. "Sometimes I get the urge to go out there and fly the real thing, but I choose to come in here instead."