KC-135 trainers keep aircrew mission ready

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The KC-135 flight simulators here are used each duty day by aircrew to maintain their flying proficiency and improve mission readiness.

Flight simulation has grown in complexity and effectiveness since its origins and continues to develop throughout the Air Force.

"It's definitely added a new dimension in how we train Airmen," said retired Master Sgt. Glen Stallard, CAE USA boom instructor. "In the past, we would just talk about the different scenarios that could happen; it was all theoretical. Now, I can put our students through those situations and force them into taking action so they are much more prepared when they go up."

Training aircrew was more expensive before computerized flight simulation was available. Air refueling practice could only be done in the real world, exposing crew members to higher risks during their initial flights and draining funds from the Air Force's wallet.

The next closest alternative to in-flight refueling was more basic.

"When I began my Air Force career, the 'simulator' for the KC-135 Stratotanker was a train car," said David Kramer, CAE operations manager." There was no motion, no visuals and even flying an instrument approach was a challenge for the device to simulate."

The flight simulators used today are exact replicas of the operator's work area and are capable of reproducing an experience similar to their work environment.

According to Kramer, the one thing simulators cannot replicate is death. If an Airman makes a fatal mistake 'in flight,' he will still be around to enjoy their lunch later that day, he said.

McConnell houses three KC-135 and one Boom Operator Weapons System Trainer simulators, enough equipment to help provide aircrew with their training needs.

These simulators feature high definition visual systems that are capable of reproducing realistic depictions an aircrew could see in real life.
"This capability allows us to present today's flight crews with realistic challenges with respect to flying and operating the aircraft," said Kramer. "We can present nearly any emergency procedure a crew would encounter in an incredibly realistic environment."

The simulators here are also networked together, giving Airmen the ability embark on training missions "together" while using different trainers.

This ability is scheduled to be upgraded later this year. The trainers will be linked to other bases, allowing Airmen in different locations to 'fly' training mission together without leaving the ground.

"They're going to link our trainers with other trainers offsite," said Stallard. "So our crew here can plan and brief a mission, jump in a pilot simulator, and meet up with a C-17 from Charleston [AFB], with a crew that's in their simulator. It's kind of like online gaming."

With the advancements in simulation technology, there has been a reduction in KC-135 accidents since they were introduced in the early 1990s.

"The best part of this entire effort from a taxpayer's perspective is the cost of this training in a simulator is less than 10 percent of what it would cost to fly the aircraft," said Kramer.

Saving money is an important aspect the trainers are useful for, but for Kramer, the true value lies in its safety benefits.

"It is very rewarding to show a young crewmember a procedure or technique they had not seen, that will allow them to stay safe while flying this great aircraft anywhere in the world," he said.