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Simulators train aircrew at fraction of cost

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- Everything's normal looking out the window of the cockpit on a summer morning, the student pilot and co-pilot are going through their preflight checklists, switches and toggles are thrown and gauges are read, and in a few minutes this C-17 Globemaster III will barrel down the runway and take off into the wild blue yonder.

Well, not really the "wild blue," but more like the large room that houses the flight simulator. At Altus Air Force Base, Okalahoma, simulators are used to create very realistic training environments for C-17 pilots and loadmasters, who can practice important skills at a much cheaper cost and without major safety risks.

Using simulators for the majority of pilot training is a huge advantage, said Capt. Jeremy Mary, an operations flight commander with the 58th Airlift Squadron. They operate at about 5 percent of the cost of real jets. One hour of flying in a C-17 costs approximately $23,424 -- a substantial difference compared to the simulator.

Not only is it significantly cheaper, but it can help save time, account for different scenarios, and is much safer.

Tony Senci, the site manager for the C-17 training system, said, "We can replicate air refueling, air drop, all the various approaches the aircraft has -- morning, noon, night vision googles, all weather, everything."

The C-17 pilots receive extensive training that ensures they will be able to operate in any real situation, Senci said. Student pilots go through computer and instructor based training, cockpit systems simulator, and weapon systems simulator training. Students spend 136.5 hours in the simulator and only 18 hours in a real aircraft.

Likewise, loadmasters spend 124 hours training in simulators and only 35 hours flying. They start with a model one-tenth the size of a true C-17 and any model of vehicles and cargo, said Senci. They then move to a computer simulator and finally to a full-scale replica of a C-17.

Although pilots begin their training in a simulator, it doesn't stop after graduation. Capt. Grant Behning, a training flight commander with the 58th AS said, "We're relying more on the simulator. We're going to use it not just to learn, but to become experts."

This advancement comes from the simulator becoming more realistic, thanks to the inputs made by the instructors.

"It's important to continue to make the simulator more like the environment," Behning said. "It will have a dramatic effect and impact on the students."

Even with advancements, the simulator can never duplicate how busy pilots are in a real aircraft, Behning and Mary said. But regarding emergency training, "we can take that to a level that you would never want to in a jet."

The extensive training gives the students the confidence to transition from simulator to a real aircraft. Capt. Bryan Adams, a C-17 student pilot, said so far he hasn't been too nervous due to the gradual progression throughout the course.

"You learn on the simulator and from your mistakes so you don't do that in an actual airplane," he added.

"It's a low stress environment. There's not a lot of pressure on you yet," said 1st Lt. Jared Barkemeyer, also a student pilot.

The use of simulators for training pilots and loadmasters are useful tools because they provide realistic familiarization time with their aircraft long before they take responsibility for a multimillion dollar aircraft. The many phases the two courses have, along with the advancement of making scenarios as real as possible, help make students ready for any situation and confident in their abilities after graduation.

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