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Squadron Keeps Simulators ‘Flying’

Squadron Keeps Simulators ‘Flying’

By 1st Lt. Robert A. Firman, 53rd Wing Public Affairs.

Eglin Air Force Base, Florida -- (AFPN) March 26, 2002 -- A thick layer of clouds obscures the stars, shrouding the F-117 Nighthawk in darkness. The cockpit windows seem opaque as the black jet streaks through the night sky on its way to deliver a lethal payload.

Maj. Doug Fannon, chief of fighter simulators for the 29th Training Systems Squadron, "flies" a training sortie in an F-16 simulator at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. People from the squadron are responsible for certifying every combat aircraft simulator in the Air Force.

Photo by 1st Lt. Robert A. Firman

Suddenly a catastrophic engine failure rocks the jet and the pilot instantly has to react. His life depends on the speed and accuracy of his decisions.

This scenario can have life or death consequences, but not in this case. The "jet" is not actually flying and its engine is a bank of computer processors. The pilot is real, however, and is practicing emergency procedures in a simulator at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

Maintaining and certifying simulators is the job of people assigned to the 29th Training Systems Squadron here. The 29th TSS is part of the 53rd Wing, that also is located here. The 53rd Wing is responsible for the operational testing of every combat system in the Air Force, including aircraft, weapons and electronic warfare systems.

People from the 29th TSS keep simulators "flying" all over the Air Force and, in fact, a squadron team recently completed the simulator certification process on the F-117 simulator at Holloman's 49th Fighter Wing.

"The 29th is responsible for maintaining and certifying simulators all over the world," said Maj. Robert Fannon, chief of fighter simulator certification with the 29th TSS at Eglin. "Not only do we certify more than 200 simulators, we support more than 30 different kinds of simulators as well."

Practicing missions on a simulator is invaluable training, said Lt. Col. Joe Skaja, commander of the 7th Combat Systems Training Squadron at Holloman.

"We don't have any two-seat F-117s, so the first mission for the stealth pilots is a solo flight. Obviously to get them ready for that, using the simulator is critical," said Skaja. "They'll go through about 11 full-up missions on the sim before their first actual flight."

Providing as much realism as possible for the pilots is the goal. In fact, the simulator often exceeds the reality, said Skaja.

"We train to a higher standard," he said. "We want the pilots to be able to face any scenario they may encounter in the real world, so in the simulator they face about every emergency scenario possible. We want them to go through it in the sim and learn the procedures for dealing with emergencies before they have to face it in reality."

The certification provided by 29th TSS people plays an important role in keeping the simulators working and current.

"We're very pleased with the support we get from the 29th," said Skaja. "Our simulator is very current and every time there's an upgrade to the jet, the sim is upgraded immediately."

Supporting so many different kinds of simulators requires flexibility.

"We just spent about two weeks at Barksdale (AFB, La.) certifying three B-52 (Stratofortress) simulators," said Fannon. "Certifying the F-117 simulator required about three days."

The certification team reviews all of the software and hardware involved to make sure it is operating as advertised. Qualified flight crews then provide feedback on the accuracy and realism of the scenarios provided.

"They tell us how close it comes to the real thing and we try to make sure that the simulator matches what you have to do in the airplane," said Fannon.

Although many aspects of flight can be recreated in the simulator, some components cannot.

"For example, we can train takeoff in the simulator, but it's not quite like the airplane because we don't have motion, but we can train the checklists," Fannon said. "We can provide visual cues and we can give them great training on the systems. The goal is to have pilots who really know the systems and procedures well before they have to face any problems for real."

In the end, simulators put flight crews through situations they may never have to face for real. But if they do, they will be better prepared thanks to the efforts of 29th TSS teams, he said.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).