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AMC, industry partner to enhance virtual training

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Canadian Aviation Electronics USA, the primary contractor for the KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew training system, recently received authorization to operate on the Air Force’s Distributed Training Center Network.

KC-135 Stratotanker simulators will now be connected to other Air Force mobility platforms allowing for live, virtual-constructive training between different bases.

“We currently have two simulators where we can link the two together to perform formation flights,” said Maj. Brian Sikkema, the 92nd Operations Support Squadron chief of aircrew training. “What we are moving to next, and what the Air Force is moving to as a whole, is to bring more training online to the virtual world. The next step is tying our simulators to a server that all the other Air Force simulators are tied to.”

The change makes it possible for the flight simulators to be connected to, and work in unison with, the boom operator simulator as well as other aircraft simulators from bases around the world. This includes linking boom operator and pilot simulators to enhance mid-air refueling training.

“This new capability allows us to push toward being able to conduct virtual flag exercises,” Sikkema said. “It allows us to train exactly how we would fight and take out a lot of the restrictions. It’s the same with threat reactions, in the current training environment, they simulate threats by saying, ‘you got taken out,’ where as in the virtual world, you can put those threats out there and see if you are getting shot at in the visuals. This is eventually what everything is moving toward.”

There are things that can be done in the simulator than cannot be done in the plane because of restrictions such as airspace and safety precautions. This includes the capability of changing air fields, planned system failures and the ability to do crisis actions that would not be safe to do in a real plane in order to train on surviving, said Sikkema.

“A major advantage of the simulators is cost,” Sikkema said. “The cost to fly a KC-135 Stratotanker is hard to nail down, but I would say a conservative estimate is roughly $8,000 an hour. The cost to operate the simulators is only about $500 an hour.”

The first base to receive networked capabilities is Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, followed by Fairchild AFB; March Air Reserve Base, California; Grissom ARB, Indiana; and MacDill AFB, Florida.


More than 3,500 KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew members are trained annually on the CAE aircrew training system, which enhances the Air Force’s air refueling capabilities.

“Our effort here is for virtual air refueling,” said Clifford Sanchez, the Air Mobility Command KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew training system manager. “We are not only training ourselves more, but we are providing a training service for other airplanes. We are building a pretty small piece here, but this is worldwide; all of the Department of Defense is going to be on the network in the years to come.”

The goal of making the changes to the simulators is to be able to use the simulators for all training and only fly the KC-135 Stratotanker when it’s absolutely necessary, said Sanchez.