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Students working in a simulation  (Source: USAF)
The use of flight simulators has expanded as military budgets shrink

The United States government has been able to save money by increasing the use of flight simulators for pilot training. Simulators haven't been ideal in all scenarios, but they've found a new use during wartime.  Specifically, students are able to test new training techniques without being sent into the air, which is a costly, time-intensive procedure.

Due to the number of deployments, especially for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, training range time has been scarce for students.  The use of simulators helps ease the $1,000-per-hour cost for flight time.

The 19th Special Operations Squadron, which paid $10,000 per simulator, saves upwards of $3 million per year on flight time due to the simulator.

Students who test the simulator sit in a machine that includes an aviation yoke, one screen including flight simulation, and three screens that mimic flight instruments.

Although simulators cannot replace real flight experience, students can take training materials and flight information home -- and instructors are able to confirm their study habits.

"It helps us know if a student is ... working really hard and just not getting it or if he studied for 30 minutes over the weekend," said Lt. Col. Dagvin Anderson, 19th Special Operations Squadron Commander, in an interview with the Air Force Times.  "It helps tell us even more about the student and his or her work habits.  The technology is finally catching up to what we envisioned it could be so it's a very exciting time right now to be here and see it all come together."

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Erm... old news?
By Amiga500 on 7/6/2010 8:24:49 AM , Rating: 3
The ramping up of simulator use has been ongoing for the best part of the last decade now...

It is but a small step from simulator to remotely piloting the combat vehicles, I cannot confirmm, but I would bet that the USAF are working on the next generation of UCAV to replace the F-22 as an air superiority platform as we speak.

No ~9g limit, an immediate >1 tonne weight saving through no pilot and the necessary support equipment, no need for the cockpit volume designspace... what is not to like?

RE: Erm... old news?
By HammerFan on 7/6/2010 8:36:45 AM , Rating: 1
two words: communication disruption. That's the biggest problem with UAVs. If an enemy were able to jam your comms with the UAV, it comes crashing down (unless it can fly itself, think "Stealth"). That isn't an issue if you have a pilot onboard.

That said, I like the use of UAVs, but they are not the end-all of combat aviation.

RE: Erm... old news?
By Iaiken on 7/6/2010 10:16:21 AM , Rating: 2
If an enemy were able to jam your comms with the UAV, it comes crashing down

That doesn't happen. Current UAV's simply linger over the last instruction area (they are semi-autonomous). It will then wait for a set period of time and if a link cannot be re-established with command, it turns around and flies home.

Current UAV's are a lot better than you seem to be willing to give them credit for...

RE: Erm... old news?
By Moishe on 7/6/2010 10:22:04 AM , Rating: 2
When they "linger" (loiter), do they fight back or go in circles like a dumb machine? Loitering in circles during a communication disruption is almost as bad as falling out of the sky.

RE: Erm... old news?
By Amiga500 on 7/6/2010 1:06:27 PM , Rating: 2
Current Reapers are only armed with A2G munitions, which require explicit instructions from the operator to fire.

Therefore they would not be capable of fighting back against enemy aircraft, nor are they currently allowed to fight back against ground based forces.

It is a question of are they allowed, not are they capable of.

RE: Erm... old news?
By JonB on 7/6/2010 9:07:27 PM , Rating: 2
When they linger / loiter, they are high enough to be virtually invisible, completely inaudible, and beyond the range of most forms of attack. They are not sitting around like piñatas waiting for a stick to hit them.

RE: Erm... old news?
By Amiga500 on 7/6/2010 1:04:09 PM , Rating: 2
Erm. How to answer.

Overhead satellites with D-antenna on the UAV ensure absolute minimal chance of detecting or intercepting outgoing communication from the UAV. Incoming communication will be scrambled of course, and will also be DF filtered to ensure only the genuine signal (from the satellite) is being used. Obviously for dogfighting, lag means built in maneuvering algorithms would be required for initial operations - however you can expect motherships to evolve to directly take control of UAVs in such instances allowing pilots to do the fighting.

Improved RCS as a result of getting rid of the pilot will mean the aircraft will be oh so much harder to see on any radar screen. (This from a man that knows most of the current 'stealth' fleet is already obsolete and thinks the F-35 is now a lame duck as a result)

The future UCAV will have better kinematic performance, better dynamic performance, better radar performance, better payload, better endurance and absolutely no fear in comparison to a manned fighter. The fighter pilot is definitely an endangered species. Most just haven't realised it yet.

As has been pointed out already, even current UAVs have a get home safely feature if they lose communication from base...

RE: Erm... old news?
By Lord 666 on 7/6/2010 5:14:43 PM , Rating: 2
Just curious; what piece of equipment replaced the SR-71? Pure sat intel or other? UAVs have to get in the general area first, so assuming a combination of gear

RE: Erm... old news?
By Master Kenobi on 7/6/2010 7:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
Given the high altitude that the SR-71 flew at, modern satellites would likely get the same job done without waiting for an overflight.

RE: Erm... old news?
By The0ne on 7/6/2010 11:33:25 AM , Rating: 3
Slight correction, simulator used by the military has been ongoing for over 25 years now. Why this is news is beyond me. Miramar had one of the most advanced simulators at the time when I went there for training, as a kid mind you. I went through flying, diving, 0g underwater and even that thing the you sit and and they spin you like mad :D

RE: Erm... old news?
By Amiga500 on 7/6/2010 12:55:20 PM , Rating: 2
I did say "ramping up" for that reason.

DiD's* great F-22 ADF was (loosely) based off code written for the USAF...

Anyhoo, yes, simulation of flight for various training purposes has been in use since nearly the first days of flight itself. But, the widespread use of properly sophisticated models has come on leaps and bounds since the mid 90s. Prior to that it was focused on a few very expensive and quite limited simulators.

*where are DiD now anyway, dud they go the way of the dodo? (Hope not)

Interesting Picture
By MrTeal on 7/6/2010 10:57:44 AM , Rating: 2
I had to do a double take to make sure that wasn't Lou Gossett from Iron Eagle.

RE: Interesting Picture
By bigdawg1988 on 7/6/2010 4:03:57 PM , Rating: 2
That IS him. God, I hated that movie! More than even Top Gun.
The idea that it's that easy to steal and fly AF fighters made me want to vomit almost as bad as a guy like Maverick actually going to Top Gun.
Yeah, I know it's Hollywood, and it's a lot of fun, but it's hard to watch if you know the real deal. You can only stretch the suspension of disbelief so far....

RE: Interesting Picture
By Brandon Hill on 7/6/2010 6:44:20 PM , Rating: 2

That was actually one of my favorite movies growing up and has permanently sealed the F-16 as my favorite jet fighter of all time.

Of course it was campy, of course it was ridiculous, but damn was it good fun (for someone that was born in 1980).

RE: Interesting Picture
By YashBudini on 7/7/10, Rating: 0
Experience is king
By Moishe on 7/6/2010 10:19:58 AM , Rating: 2
I'm all for saving money, and I'm all for simulation, but this is probably going to produce lower quality pilots.

I think an interesting study would be to give a group of students 60/40 hrs sim/flight time, then give another group 80/20 and see how well the pilots compete against each other.

Using more sim time (Especially with study-at-home ability) could produce a generation of "OK" but not top-notch military pilots.

RE: Experience is king
By GuinnessKMF on 7/6/2010 11:39:03 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think you're understanding the point of the simulator. It's not supposed to replace flight time, it's meant to supplement flight time, to ensure they're not learning basics while in cockpit, and that they're familiar with it.

Using bad example numbers, if you had a budget of $100,000 to train a pilot, and the cost of in air being $1,000/hr and in simulator being about $50/hr, your 60/40 v 80/20 example would become something more like: 1200 hr sim / 40 hr in air vs 1600 hr sim vs 20 hr in air. That's an extra 380 hours in the cockpit the simulator provided ... that's a lot of time to get comfortable.

I won't disagree that time in the air is important, and even in that example it might be close (but that probably has more to do w/ the bad example numbers, 20 and 40 hours are ridiculously small for training, and then it'd come down more to personal aptitude of the individuals selected).

There just aren't enough planes/support staff/budget for the pilots to be in the air as much as they would like to be, any extra time this buys them is important.

By Drag0nFire on 7/6/2010 10:34:20 AM , Rating: 2
Umm... are we sure that's not a submarine simulator? It sure looks like the plane is under water. I can see a fish out the window.

Maybe they were practicing water landings. =D

RE: picture
By Brandon Hill on 7/6/2010 6:45:37 PM , Rating: 2
It's actually a pic of Doug Masters in the movie Iron Eagle using the Air Force base's F-16 simulator :)

Ten grand?
By nvalhalla on 7/6/2010 9:48:25 AM , Rating: 3
They paid $10,000 for that simulator?? I can come up with ten grand, where do I purchase it?!

It's not a fish...
By SimBoB on 7/6/2010 11:28:40 AM , Rating: 2's a reflection of the instruments on the window.

Had this been actual news, you'd know that the C-130 full flight simulator in the photo is not the $10k one described (more likely the one from swri).

And that simulators save lives and millions of $$ every year--and have since WWII--since they can train for situations you'd never want a real plane to be in.

And that Lou Gossett Jr. doesn't actually know how to fly a jet fighter--though the guy standing next to him in the photo seems to suspect this.

By hukares on 7/6/2010 6:20:48 PM , Rating: 2
Flight simulators have existed for 100 years. Nearly as long as people have been flying. They become very popular during WWII due to the need to produce pilot's rapidly. American pilots went to war with little to no time in a real plane and still performed well.
The main purpose of simulation is like someone here already said - for situations you wouldn't a real plane to be in - namely, emergency procedures. What do you do when a fuel tank leaks? When an engine is on fire? When you lose a flight system?
There are also cheaper simulators like to $10,000 example that is likely made out of wood with a few chairs and stickers to show where instruments and buttons are located. These have their purpose in early training as aircraft traditionally have very busy cockpits - pilot's need to learn to placement and develop "muscle memory".
Simulators can also be used by the military to train for missions. Multiple simulators can be networked together to teach teamwork.
I'm an engineer and have been working with flight simulators for 7 years now.

If it wasn't cost efficient...
By JonnyDough on 7/7/2010 5:41:10 AM , Rating: 2
do you really think they'd be using simulators? Come on, is this even an article?

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