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New simulators meet remotely piloted aircraft program’s growth

| Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Nov. 23, 2016

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — A squadron at Joint Base San Antonio that produces training devices benefiting diverse Air Force career fields is now supplying a 12th Flying Training Wing unit with new, improved simulators to enhance the education of students in the remotely piloted aircraft program.

The 502nd Security Forces and Logistics Support Group’s 502nd Trainer Development Squadron has installed six new T-6 simulators at the 558th Flying Training Squadron to accommodate the growth in the number of students taking the RPA Instrument Qualification Course.

The six new simulators – along with 10 T-6 simulators that will be replaced by new versions over the next year – will enable the 558th FTS to meet an Air Force tasking to double RPA pilot production, said Lt. Col. Jason Thompson, 558th FTS commander.

“Based on the requirement, the 558th FTS determined six additional simulators were required to meet a production number of 384 students per year,” he said. “Air Education and Training Command secured funding and a contract avenue to build the new simulators.”

The project to build the six new T-6 simulators and the 10 replacement simulators began last year at the 502nd TDS, which designs training devices, fabricates parts for them and builds, installs and often maintains them.

“Virtually the entire squadron has been involved in the project, including project managers, designers, supply and warehouse personnel, and machine and structural shop personnel,” said Paul Ramsay, 502nd TDS design and development supervisor. “It’s also important to note the major role of the prime contractors and subcontractors as well as in-house contractor employees.”

The simulators combine in-house conceptualization, design, manufacturing and assembly with significant components and features obtained from the commercial world, he said.

Some of the improvements over the old simulators are ease of ingress and egress and seating that is adjustable to address an appropriate range of student heights and other factors, Ramsay said.

“The new sims also reuse an upgraded version of the present simulators’ software, which minimizes cost and maintains and expands use of the current curriculum for computer currency,” he said.

Other features are contractor-resourced controls and panels that include an upgraded rudder and control stick assemblies, an innovative display system that overcomes the current system’s visual issues and upgraded projectors and visual display components for improved ground and airborne visual effects, Ramsay said.

The new simulators, which are now in the testing phase, offer “better fidelity,” Thompson said.

“The new simulators add eight times the visual resolution of the previous simulators,” he said. “The switches, software, form, fit, feel and overall functionality more closely mirror the actual T-6 aircraft. Better fidelity simulators equal better training for the students.”

The older simulators provided a template for the new version, said Joseph Domeier, former 502nd TDS project manager.

“We modified the design to what the 558th FTS needed,” he said. “We met with the squadron commander, RPA instructors and other personnel to gather their concerns and determine additional training needs.”

Simulators used in the RIQ course, the first course taken by prospective RPA pilots, replicate the T-6 cockpit, Domeier said.
“The simulators get students familiar with what flying inside an actual cockpit is like,” he said. “This is the only airframe they learn in.”

The simulators replicate what it would feel like in a congested airspace, said Capt. Brandt, 558th FTS RIQ instructor.

“We are integrating the new sims into a virtual world and are able to fly all six in the same virtual world,” he said. “We’re testing all six singularly and as a virtual world so everything works as advertised.”

The instructor sits behind the student, using two computer screens – one that duplicates the student’s instrument panel and one that shows the airspace for the virtual world.

“I sit here as the back seater and instructor,” Brandt said. “In the singular world, I can manipulate environmental data, such as the weather and the scenario. In addition, we can have a group chat among instructors using mIRC, an Internet Relay Chat.”

The new simulators will also allow the 558th FTS to operate at full capacity inside its own building, Brandt said.

“Right now we’re sharing simulators with the 559th FTS in another building,” he said. “We’re using them for two full flights of 24 students each day, which creates a lot of scheduling conflicts. The new sims will alleviate that congestion across the street.”

Thompson commended the 502nd TDS’ efforts in building the simulators.

“The 502nd TDS has been an outstanding partner trying to make this happen on an extremely tight timeline,” he said.

Kevin Haley, 502nd TDS director, said the squadron’s team members “take pride in everything they do.

“You can see it in the products they deliver,” he said. “We’re not happy until the customer’s happy.”

(Editor’s note: In accordance with current Air Force guidance, the last name of the RPA instructor in this story has been omitted due to operational security constraints.)