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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Simulators In The Schoolhouse

Frank Colucci

At Fort Rucker, the U.S. Army is introducing the networked simulators that lie at the heart of Flight School XXI.

THE FIRST STUDENT AVIATORS FULLY immersed in the U.S. Army's Flight School XXI began training last month and this month start flying their new, high-fidelity simulators.

With more time in advanced training devices and go-to-war aircraft, Flight School XXI graduates promise operational commanders safer, more qualified aviators who need less training in field units. Full operational capability for Fort Rucker's new training model nevertheless requires simulation prime contractor Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) to bring 57 new training devices on line by October 2008. Col. Dan Stewart, commander of the 110th Aviation Brigade at the Alabama fort, said, "It's absolutely key that we do that, first as a cost-saving measure and second to do the emergency procedures training we can't do as safely in the aircraft." Stewart added that networking the new simulators will help give new Army aviators collective skills to fly and fight as a team.

The Aviation Training Brigade at the Army Aviation Center became the 110th Aviation Brigade earlier this year. Plans call for the brigade to school just over 1,200 new aviators in 2006, all in the new curriculum. Wartime flying makes statistical safety comparisons with the old curriculum difficult, but the interim Flight School XXI program in place since 2002 has earned good reviews.

As a Black Hawk battalion commander, Stewart found pilots trained under the old program usually needed another 30-40 flight hours before they achieved the Army's readiness level 1. Today's battalion commanders report new aviators arrive with that level of individual and collective skills. "They're getting more capable, go-to-war-ready aviators than they were getting from the legacy curriculum," said Stewart. The Army's commanding general in South Korea specifically asked for every Flight School XXI graduate he can get. "Its very positive feedback," said Stewart.

The interim curriculum modernized the Aviation Center's helicopter fleet. Phase 1 contact, instrument and military skills training is flown in TH-67 Creeks. (Stopgap OH-58C navigation trainers are to be phased out over the next three years as Bell Helicopter delivers more Creeks.). Though some UH-1 Hueys remain at Fort Rucker to train U.S. Air Force helicopter pilots and Army medevac crews, Phase 2 of the interim curriculum puts all Advanced students in the AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior they will take to war. A new AH-64D pilot, for example, flies 32.5 more hours in the Longbow Apache than did pilots trained under the old curriculum.

Lear Siegler remains the flight instruction contractor at Fort Rucker and provides civilian instructor pilots for TH-67 primary and instrument training. Army and Army Dept. civilian instructors train students in go-to-war aircraft.

Based on experience in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, a number of changes were made to the interim curriculum. Night-vision qualification for AH-64 crews was added, as was close-combat training for AH-64 and OH-58D crews and high-energy maneuvering for Apache, Black Hawk and Kiowa Warrior pilots. Further revisions are expected as lessons from combat are distilled. "That's key for us," Stewart explained. "It's not a static flight school as it was for a quite a long period of time. We think we've put procedures in place to put changes in instruction in place based on feedback."

The Flight School XXI curriculum includes underwater "dunker" escape and survival evasion, resistance, and escape training. Fort Rucker also draws on the Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. and other players for aviator collective training with ground units. The mix of actual and virtual flight hours may change as the full curriculum takes hold. "We think we've probably got about the 95-percent solution right now," said Stewart. "We really don't know for sure until we can see it with all the simulation in place."

Flight School XXI blends modern helicopters with advanced simulators and training devices to save real aircraft hours and enrich training. "It's obviously a cost savings in reducing the operational tempo on the aircraft," said Stewart. Core, or Phase 1, students will use TH-67 Operational and Instrument Flight Trainers to practice for the real Creek. Phase 2 Advanced training will take students through UH-60, CH-47, OH-58D, and AH-64D operational and instrument flight trainers before they fly the real aircraft. In addition, five Reconfigurable Collective Training Devices are designed to be changed from one aircraft type to another (ranging from AH-64As, AH-64Ds and OH-58Ds to UH-60A/Ls and CH-47Ds) in 30 min. and can be networked for team training.

The Flight School XXI simulators will also train maintenance test pilots, pilots transitioning to different aircraft and entire units preparing to deploy. CSC is the "simulation support services" prime contractor and system integrator for Flight School XXI and all other individual and collective training programs at Fort Rucker. "We don't owe them 57 simulators," said Flight School XXI program manager P.J. Penny. "What we owe them is to make sure they have operational simulators to do the job of training."

CSC won the simulation contract in 2003, and with its subcontractors is to deliver, operate, schedule, maintain and upgrade the simulators over 20 years, as well as help the government build training exercise courseware. The Army intends to keep its training systems concurrent with the real aircraft. Money has been set aside for small simulator-concurrency upgrades like new radios to match real cockpits. Digital cockpits in the CH-47F and UH-60M will drive more extensive operational and instrument flight trainers modifications. The new Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter may require modification of OH-58D training devices or entirely new simulators.

To deliver a family of simulators on the aggressive Flight School XXI schedule, CSC assembled an experienced industry team that includes L-3 Communications' Link Simulation and Training unit, FlightSafety International, Rockwell Collins Simulation and Training, and Metters Industries.

CSC mandated commercial-off-the-shelf computers, interoperable, open-system software, and common motion, visual, and networking hardware to reduce spares and make it easy to refresh simulator technology. Modular training devices that can be shipped in pieces and assembled at Fort Rucker streamline on-site integration. As of September, CSC had 20 TH-67, five UH-60 and one CH-47 trainers in two facilities--the Army Warfighting Simulation Center at Fort Rucker and Warrior Hall in nearby Daleville.

FlightSafety builds the TH-67 operational and instrument flight trainers. Like the real TH-67, they are based on the commercial Bell 206L3 JetRanger. FlightSafety extracted data from the actual helicopter for civil Level-D fidelity in a military training device. "We've applied the FAA concepts that they use in Level D standards," said FlightSafety's military programs director, David Buchanan. "That leaves you with a simulator that is fully tuned and objectively documented so you can maintain it throughout its life." The TH-67 simulators even replicate the starter relay and hydraulic pump sounds heard in the actual Creek. A secondary vibration-motion base simulates the real helicopter's rotor and gear train cues.

The TH-67 operational flight trainer has a three-channel VITAL 9 panoramic visual system and an electrically-actuated six-degree-of-freedom motion base that is cleaner, more efficient, and more reliable than hydraulic motion, according to the company. The instrument trainer needs to show only a forward view of the airfield on approach, so this fixed-base device has a single-channel visual system. For the TH-67 devices, FlightSafety built a wide-area visual database that shows students the Fort Rucker area in 1:50,000 detail. "They transition from the simulator to the aircraft using the same maps and navigation aids they use in the actual aircraft," Buchanan said. All the TH-67 instrument trainers can be converted to operational flight trainers.

FlightSafety likewise used experience gained building its commercial S-70 Level D simulator to develop an Army UH-60 operational flight trainer. The new Black Hawk simulator uses the same motion bases and visual system as the TH-67 operational trainer but integrates an interactive tactical environment from Link Simulation and Training. The environment includes enemy forces, threats, and realistic battlefield data.

Overall, Link is responsible for 37 of the 57 Flight School XXI training devices. It will build the AH-64D operational flight trainer and all the reconfigurable collective training devices. Link, in turn, relies upon subcontractors FlightSafety for the UH-60A/L operational and instrument trainers, and Metters for the CH-47D operational trainers. Rockwell Collins is subcontractor to build the OH-58D operational and instrument trainers. "One of the challenges of the program was we had to build a boatload of trainers in a short period of time," said Lenny Genna, Link's Army programs vice president. Metters has made military and commercial ground-system training devices.

Reconfigurable trainers
The Link reconfigurable collective trainers simulate the UH-60, AH-64A or D, OH-58D, and CH-47D with plug-in instrument panels and the Kaiser helmet-mounted display and InterSense head tracker developed for the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer. The high-resolution helmet display gives each crewmember a 100X50-deg. field-of-view in a 360-deg. field-of-regard with a virtual mask to recreate tandem or side-by-side cockpits. "Anywhere you look, it will re-draw the picture of where you're looking," said Genna. Even without complex motion bases, he said, with their high-fidelity control loading and seat shakers the reconfigurable trainers replicate the force and feel of the real aircraft.

Link is to network all the Aviation Center simulators at the "secret" level to share common databases in secure, collective training exercises. The first five reconfigurable trainers have already helped prepare operational aviators for Kosovo and Iraq in custom databases, Genna said, adding that multi-ship UH-60 and CH-47 operations have been flown safely and economically in the connected simulators.

In Flight School XXI networked training devices, new lieutenants can be air mission commanders, and warrant officers can act as flight leads. "We're trying to give those students collective-skills sets before they go into the field," said Stewart. The goal of the Army's simulator-rich flight school remains a safer, more capable aviator in a real cockpit. "We still can't get away from the fact that the building block for aviation is individual skills," he said.

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