Simulators are crucial to IAF flying training and so India should invest in them
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Simulators are crucial to IAF flying training and so India should invest in them

Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd) Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd)

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will soon be the third largest air force behind the US and China. Aircraft have become very expensive with a mid-sized fighter aircraft costing close to USD 100 million. Per hour cost of flying for modern military aircraft is also very high because of high cost of spares that require mandatory replacement linked to flying hours.

Typically, the F-35 per hour operating cost is USD 32,000, F-15E USD 32,000, F-16C USD 22,000 and Rafale USD 18,000. In addition to aircraft flying cost, there is an element of risk both to the aircraft and aircrew. The average cost of flying training therefore grows many folds. A flight simulator is a device that artificially re-creates aircraft flight characteristics and the environment in which it flies, for crew training. It includes very realistic feel of flight controls, aircraft response to control and other inputs, and how the aircraft reacts to external factors such as air density, turbulence, wind shear, cloud, precipitation, etc.

Flight simulation also greatly reduces aircraft design and development time. Flying training undoubtedly draws the greatest advantage from realistic simulation. As a thumb rule, a modern simulator costs around one-fourth that of the aircraft. It can be used repeatedly for nearly 14 hours of training a day at a fractional cost. Modern air forces across the world invest heavily in simulator training. The IAF is finally trying to catch up.

Historical Simulator Evolution
Serious military aviation began as early as World War I. The first problem for pilots was to shoot from a moving platform at a moving target.

Ground-based simulators were created to teach the concept of lead-angle. By Thirties, the first Link trainer had come up in the US. Essentially, it was a metal frame with rudimentary pneumatic motion platform that provided yaw and pitch motion cues.

In World War II, 10,000 Link trainers were produced to train half a million pilots. This effectively marked the beginning of simulator flying training. World War II also saw the design of first navigation and bombing simulators to help night missions and train for celestial navigation. In 1954, United Airlines bought four simulators at a cost of USD 3 million to train aircrew for commercial flights.

Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III flight simulator in Gurugram
Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III flight simulator in Gurugram

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