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Defense Language Institute preps potential international coalition pilots

By Mary Nell Sanchez | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | April 10, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas - Students representing more than 120 countries enroll at Defense Language Institute at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. One of the courses they may take is the Mike Sirois Aviation Simulation Lab where they learn more than just how to fly an aircraft.

The 9-week aviation course focuses on expanding flight skills needed for military readiness and contingencies while also improving knowledge of the English language.

The classroom’s computers are loaded with voice-prompted aviation simulation software, called Simulated Environment Realistic Air Traffic Control, or SERA. The desks also include aircraft hand controls, pedals and screens to give each student a seat in their own imaginary cockpit.

“You get into a multi-million dollar aircraft and you’ve got all this pressure to perform,” said Terry Harsh, 37th Training Wing aviation instructor. “This training is absolutely critical for their success.”

The aviation lab provides a safe environment for the students to practice many flight scenarios, both routine and unexpected, in a virtual North American T-6 Texan on runways based on the flight lines at military installations in Columbus, Dyess and Laughlin.

During the course, they’ll use SERA to practice a variety of maneuvers like takeoffs and maintaining air speeds while communicating to the tower in English.

“It’s all about language saturation and getting them comfortable in both speaking in [English] and flying an aircraft,” said Lt. Col John Carter, 332nd Training Squadron command and DLIELC dean of academics.

 “SERA is kind of like SIRI, an artificial intelligence application where you can talk to it and practice your radio calls,” Carter added. “The computer will then speak back to you and give you prompts for the next call.”

By having SERA communicate in English, the course is also helping students learn technical English words in the context of aviation and the military.

Learning how to fly is hard enough, but they are doing it while speaking a foreign language they are also trying to master, Carter said, adding that effective communication when flying is crucial.

The technical terminology and functional words are essential for them to succeed, Harsh said.

After completing the simulation lab course, the students then go to another U.S. base for additional pilot training before returning to their respective country.

“DLIELC is just a steady pipeline building future coalition military leaders and operators,” Carter said. “In the next fight we fight, we’re going to fight alongside the countries our students represent.”

“If we come together, we have to be on the same sheet of music,” Harsh said.