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Flight Sim up and running

Paul Whidden, a simulator maintenance technician III with True Simulation in Martinsburg, W.Va., takes a ride in the new C-17 simulator at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va. The simulator is used by pilots and loadmasters to practice their skills in a very life-like simulator. The simulator will have the capability in the future to link up with other airframes from other units and go through different flying scenarios. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/released)

Paul Whidden, a simulator maintenance technician III with True Simulation in Martinsburg, W.Va., takes a ride in the new C-17 simulator at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va. The simulator is used by pilots and loadmasters to practice their skills in a very life-like simulator. The simulator will have the capability in the future to link up with other airframes from other units and go through different flying scenarios. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/released)

Martinsburg W.Va. -- The 167th Airlift Wing's C-17 flight simulator facility opened its doors for limited training of aircrew members June 15.

While the wing is currently using the facility in a limited capacity, regularly scheduled, full-time training will begin July 17.

According to John Zazworsky, the L-3 Communications Corp. C-17 training systems site manager and pilot instructor, having the new simulator operational is beneficial to the wing.

"We started training on the 15th and have been doing between three and five training events a week," Zazworsky said. "This allows the wing to not have to do TDYs for training. It is definitely more cost-effective."

With the C-17s, pilots and loadmasters have annual training requirements that they must meet in order to stay qualified to operate the aircraft. The purpose of the training is to provide a thorough review of the initial aircrew training that both pilots and loadmasters go through. The yearly training requirements cover everything from procedures and regulations to bad weather and emergency, all of which can be generated by the simulator.

"One benefit [of a simulator] is realistic and challenging training," Zazworsky said. "Obviously every time you train in the aircraft it's realistic, however, you can't accept the type of risk associated with the types of emergencies that we practice in the simulator. [With the simulator,] whatever complicated and dangerous situation you want to throw at the crew members can be done in an environment that is very realistic and feels like you are in the aircraft but if things go wrong you can hit the stop button."

Simulator training is nothing new to the wing's aircrew. While the wing was flying the C-5 Galaxy, all aircrew members were required to undergo some simulator training.

What is different about the C-17 simulator is that it comes equipped with a separate loadmaster simulator station that can be linked to the flight simulator, allowing for a more realistic and engaging experience, said Brian Chewning, an L-3 Communications Corp. loadmaster instructor.

"With the loadmaster simulator, we have a panel that is an exact replica of what is on the aircraft; it reacts just like the real one," Chewning said. "[With the link capabilities,] you can talk with each other just like you can on the airplane. With this capability there is now a crew resource management aspect to the training that allows for an even more realistic and rewarding experience for the crew members."

While it is much safer to perform this type of training in a simulator, there is also a financial benefit to it as well. Cuts to the Department of Defense budget and the scaling back of Air Force operations means that wings are looking for ways to ensure their personnel are receiving the training they need and the lowest possible cost to tax payers.

Simulator training, which is ran by electronic systems, allows for highly realistic training in a safe environment at a fraction of the price associated with "live" training that uses fuel.

According to Patrick Bankemper, the L-3 Communications Corp. senior technician and acting maintenance manager, the financial and safety aspects associated with simulator training are invaluable.

"In the aircraft industry, when something goes wrong with an aircraft, or some sort of accident occurs, we gather data via the famous "black box," that is on all aircraft," Bankemper said. "We can then use that data to write programs for simulations and then teach our students how to react to different situations. When you think about the equipment costs and the lives saved by this type of training, by having highly qualified and well-prepared aircrew members, it's absolutely staggering."