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Headed to the SIM! Safer, stronger warfighter readiness

U.S. Air Force Capt. Josh Welch, left, and 2nd Lt. Kent Melendez, right, both pilots assigned to the 50th Air Refueling Squadron, perform pre-flight procedures in the KC-135 flight simulator at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla, Aug. 17, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Josh Welch, left, and 2nd Lt. Kent Melendez, right, both pilots assigned to the 50th Air Refueling Squadron, perform pre-flight procedures in the KC-135 flight simulator at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla, Aug. 17, 2018. Pilots perform multiple simulator flights each year testing their proficiency with the aircraft and their ability to handle a wide array of emergency scenarios. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Scott Warner)

A KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft flight simulator during a training session at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 17, 2018.

A KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft flight simulator during a training session at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 17, 2018. During each simulation flight, two pilots train on their ability to fly and handle emergency procedures while being tested on their knowledge of various systems such as electrical, pneumatics, engines, fuels, and hydraulics. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Scott Warner)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

 In a continual effort to remain the world's greatest air power, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, uses flight simulation to train aircrew to expect the unexpected.

Specifically, MacDill’s KC-135 Stratotanker pilots undergo at least six to seven training sessions annually in a flight simulator, but recently, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., sent MacDill another simulator, currently housed at Civil Aviation Electronics until space is made available on base. 

 “The additional simulator gives us more capabilities to complete our goals,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Quick, a KC-135 instructor pilot assigned to 6th Operation Support Squadron. “CAE also has instructors with prior military and KC-135 experience giving us continuity and stability in our training, which is critical to our mission.”

 As a result, MacDill pilots and boom operators train to difficult scenarios ultimately leading to better performance.

 “Flight simulation is an exploding industry,” said retired Col. Brett Pennington, a CAE flight instructor and former Air Force pilot with 24 years of experience. “The simulators now can render such realistic environments and it allows for better training through trial and error because out in the field, the room for error in a military aircraft is none.”

 Pennington explained that during these training sessions, pilots demonstrate knowledge of various systems such as electrical, pneumatics, engines, fuels and hydraulics while showing their ability to fly and handle emergency scenarios.

 “The simulator does a fantastic job in recreating certain environmental conditions that we don’t see often in the MacDill area,” said Capt. Christopher Watz, a KC-135 pilot assigned to the 91st Air Refueling Squadron.

 Watz went on to explain that there are maneuvers and situations during flight simulations that they wouldn’t want to practice in an aircraft because of the inherent risk.

 After all, when a KC-135 costs approximately $40 million to build and an Airman’s life is irreplaceable, it only seems logical to conserve resources through the use of a risk-free flight simulator.

 “During a simulation, you don’t use a large amount of resources and if you add everything up, the benefits are substantial,” said Pennington.

 According to the Office under Secretary of Defense for fiscal year 2018, the dollar amount per hour for operation and maintenance to fly a KC-135R is $11,843.

 “As an industry standard, 1/10th of the cost per flight hour is typical when compared to an actual flight for any aircraft,” said Ray Duquette, the President and General Manager of CAE U.S.A.

 To put this number into perspective, in calendar year 2017, MacDill AFB registered approximately 3,000 flight hours in its simulator. At an average cost of $11,843 per flight hour, the MacDill saved roughly $32 million last year. 

 However, the ultimate benefit of flight simulation is the possibility of saving lives.

 “The biggest benefit pilots receive is how to mitigate risk in an aircraft and that can be directly attributed to numerous hours in flight simulation,” said Quick.

 Every month, new technology and training scenarios emerge, increasing the realism of flight simulation while bolstering the lethality of our joint forces.

“We have come a long way since the early 70’s and 80’s of only having night flight simulators or black and white flight simulations without motion responses,” said Duquette. “Ultimately, flight simulators will continue to improve in its synthetic environment and motion simulation capabilities providing solutions for our warfighters.”