Tag Archives: Flight simulator

Safe, saver, simulation

A 4th generation fighter jet can cost 50,000 euro to fly per hour. That’s a lot of cash. More advanced missions are flown by four-ships. That’s 200k per flying hour. Then they need someone to fight.  That means a second 4-ship: 400k.

Nick Graham is a former Royal Air Force Tornado and Typhoon pilot who also flew F-16s with the Royal Danish Air Force. He’s is currently an instructor pilot, training future jet pilots in the United Arab Emirates. This is his second blog on Airheadsfly.com. Interested in reading Nick's first? Find it here.
Nick Graham is a former Royal Air Force Tornado and Typhoon pilot who also flew F-16s with the Royal Danish Air Force. He’s is currently an instructor pilot, training future jet pilots in the United Arab Emirates. Find Nick’s earlier blogs at Airheadsfly.com here.
Add air-to-air refuelling, a ground based target to drop a weapon on, chaff, flares plus some more fancy stuff and the bill is easily at 500k per hour. Some high end missions cost 1 million euro. It’s easy to see how suddenly the cost becomes quite crippling. If that training can be flown in a simulator for “mere” thousands, it is easy to understand the huge advances the synthetic world offers. So how real can it get? Simulators have limits. G-force, how a radar will actually react to jamming or chaff, difficulty in finding a target coming at you from the sun, the reality that you can die if you mess up, the big entrance door at the back of the simulator dome which means you’ll never see the hostile in your deep 6, the play of light and shadow and how it helps or hinders you in making an ID of a ground target. The list is long, so other than saving money, what can the simulator do for us?

Practice Red Flag

Well, first of all, simulators can be linked up just like any on-line game. You can fly as a linked 4-ship and your friends will be seen from your sim dome (although there are no pilots to show hand-signals etc). You can fly in close formation, refuel off a tanker (nowhere near as tricky as the real thing), and fly anywhere in the world. We used to practice Red Flag missions before going to Nevada for real just to get used to the departure and recovery procedures. You can do the same for any war zone you can imagine.

Fight against a Flanker

The biggest positive for the simulated world though is the ease of manipulation. To get a real Su-27 to fight against is tricky. To get to fight against a Flanker with no restrictions, unless in real conflict, is never going to happen. In the simulated world, a click of the mouse can plonk 4 of them (or more) wherever you want. You can give them a skill capability and let them test your tactics on their own, or you can have a second operator control them to test a specific skill if you wish.

Night flying

Night flying is probably the way we would fight at the start of a war. If your squadron is training during daylight at the time (eg they are practicing dogfighting), you can keep current in certain night procedures using the sim without having to keep you engineering team in work for 20 hours. The UK has poor weather at times of the year. The simulator is used to renew instrument ratings with the examiner able to change the weather to force the pilot under test to fly the approach he wants to see. The examiner can make the weather below limits to see what actions the pilot will take when he can’t see the runway.

A very convincing digital flying world is created, with possible scenarios taking place anywhere. (Image © TSC)
A very convincing digital flying world can be created, with possible scenarios taking place anywhere. (Image © TSC)

Tactics

And now onto tactics. Simulators can be loaded with flight models of actual missiles and radar software. Tactics can be flown against smart hostiles who shoot back. Pulling the trigger and seeing a missile fly off the wing is excellent training, not least when you watch your wingman shoot. You know he has fired rather than relying on his radio calls. You can see hostile missiles flying towards you from a variety of threat systems and practise how to defeat them. Once all this flying is done, the simulator can play back what happened. A full mission can be watched on large cinema screens. Flight leads will check to make sure that what was there was actually found by his team’s radars and targeted properly. As an instructor, you can fly and then save a manoeuvre and then sit your student in the cockpit and they can watch what you did over and over again and then copy it. The demo is the same for every student.

Like Star Wars: a Full Mission Simulator. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Like Star Wars: a Full Mission Simulator. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Emergency

And then the final use, the one pilots don’t like the sim for: emergency handling. As a fighter pilot, you are drilled in emergency actions for every month of your flying career. Immediate actions must be known or else you lose your privilege to fly. Fighters are the formula one of flying machines. They are at the limit of engineering. They break. We are tested hard for an hour every month with head scratching puzzles. If you don’t work out the problem fast enough, you lose the jet. It’s excellent training and certainly saved my skin on a mission over Libya when my jet had a system failure. But that’s another story.

Air Force core capabilities

There is a second element to be considered. It is easy to find out what a country has equipped its air force with. Airshows have become huge trade events with big deals announced to the media to reassure stockholders that their chosen aerospace company is doing great business. Not just airframes, but avionics and weapons. These core capabilities drive how an air force can fight. They help us build and develop tactics. We practice those tactics in vast training areas. We sometimes use encrypted radios to talk to our radar controllers and formation members, but often our communications are “in the clear”.

The F-35 comes as one-seater only, making the need for simulators even bigger (Image © US Air Force)
The F-35 comes as one-seater only, making the need for simulators even bigger (Image © US Air Force)

Real-time radar

It is easy for the average member of the public to watch near real-time radar feeds of our fights and listen to our radio work on their computers. It takes very little to work out some of our tactics. We must be careful to keep our tactics secret. A simulator allows us to fight as we would for real, in secret. With new stealthy jets like the F-35 coming into service and the need to protect their tactical secrets, the age of the simulator is well upon us.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com contributor Nick Graham
Featured image (top): Take flight while staying on the ground; an simulator can get as real as it gets. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Full Mission Simulators provide an almost 360 degrees field of view. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Full Mission Simulators provide an almost 360 degrees field of view. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

AHF↑Inside: Tactical simulation under God’s view

Fierce wars are fought out daily in a low-key building at Pardubice airbase in the Czech Republic. Yet, inside the guarded building it is quiet. Men in flying suits walk in, only to come out hours later, after being bombarded with knowledge on tactical flying. This is the Tactical Simulation Centre (TSC), where Czech Air Force and other NATO-pilots brush up their skills in blue vs. red scenarios, with up to eight players at one time. It’s done digitally, with interlinked cockpit simulators and the impressive ‘God’s view’. How’s that for multiplayer action?

In the darkened main room of the TSC, four large black half-domes house four tactical simulators. The cockpits represent those of Saab JAS 39C Gripen air superiority fighters or L-159 ALCAs used for ground attack, with potential of future extension to other types of aircraft if requested. Each pilot has all tactical instruments and information laid before him on touch screen displays, and of course he has a stick and throttle identical to those in real aircraft. On the inside of the domes, a digital flying world is created, true to any scenario in any place of the world. This is tactical flying simulation at its best.

TSC3
A very convincing digital flying world is created, with possible scenarios taking place anywhere. (Image © TSC)

Cost effective
Over to the side are four more tactical simulators, simplified versions with slightly less impressive visualization possibilities. Also in the TSC there are two Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) stations and a Forward Air Controller (FAC) station. Elsewhere are briefing rooms, and in those rooms practicing pilots prepare their missions. However, they will never leave the ground while flying those missions. The TSC is a very cost effective solution; for the price of one flying hour in a modern fighter aircraft, dozens of aircrew can be trained for hours and hours.

No wonder other NATO-members are interested in the TSC, which is run by LOM PRAHA and is classified as ‘NATO secret’. Last year, a virtual Tiger Meet was successfully staged here, with air crew from various nations taking part.

Also, Slovak pilots have already trained in Pardubice and Germany and Poland are interested in having their pilots educated there as well. The TSC currently finishes adaption of the cockpit simulators to the L-39 standard, which means TSC can offer tactical training for all jet aircraft in the Czech forces. There are also plans to adapt  the cockpit simulators to Lockheed Martin F-16 or MiG-29 standard.

Scenarios
Training takes place based on a range of scenarios, complete with radar threats, air defence systems, jamming. Air-to-air combat in simulated in beyond visual range (BVR) and within visual range (WVR) situations. Sit in one of the cockpit simulators and suddenly a Su-27 can pop up at long range inside your head up display (HUD), or even at your immediate 3 o’clock, too close for comfort. The GCI controller is guiding you via your headset. Maybe your wingman in the dome next to you will help you out, while you’re busy flying evasive maneuvers over a mountainous landscape. It gets exciting!

Czech_Saab_JAS39_Gripen
The real deal: a Saab JAS 39C Gripen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

God’s View
After the execution of the mission comes the debrief and 3D After Action Review (AAR). On large screens in the middle of the building, the mission is played back from all possible angles. The movements of each of up to eight ‘players’ are closely scrutinized, but there’s also the big picture (God’s view) of all the action. Each mission is thoroughly debriefed, evaluated and analyzed. And then, it’s lessons learned.

In the Tactical Simulation Centre it has been going on like this since November 2011, when the first courses started. Dozens and dozens of NATO combat pilots have been cost effectively trained on tactics. The centre has also attracted attention from fellow Air Combat Simulation Centre in Sweden, and a real-time connection to a similar installation in Sweden is on the cards. It’s good already at the TSC in Pardubice, and it will only get better.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest

Large screens offer 'God's View'. (Image © TSC)
Large screens offer ‘God’s View’. (Image © TSC)
The real deal again. A Czech Air Force pilots focuses on the oncoming mission in his Aero Vodochy L-159 ALCA. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The real deal again. A Czech Air Force pilots focuses on the oncoming mission in his Aero Vodochody L-159 ALCA. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Related posts

Tactical Simulator Center
You and your wingman… ready for tactical flying simulation. (Image © TSC)