As Good as Real

Shortage of advanced simulators in both military and civil sectors has to be filled up

Yunus Dar

Simulators are an indispensable asset for training and guiding the aircraft pilots, at very low cost and time. As technology evolves at a rapid pace and with advances in 3D technology and virtual reality, training in simulators has become as good as training in a real aircraft. The innovations in simulator technology have blurred the lines between real operating environment and virtual reality.

Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster simulator

The Full Mission Simulator (FMS) prepares the pilots for carrying out missions on the aircraft after extensive practice on the FMS. Many more countries are making it mandatory for the pilots to undergo minimum number of training hours on the simulator before flying the actual aircraft. Factors like limited airspace today and the high cost of pilot training makes simulators even more crucial and necessary for safety and cost reduction.

Flight simulators have come a long way since they were first introduced around 100 years ago. Today’s simulators can recreate reality so closely that their operation becomes indistinguishable from an actual sortie. With increasing complexity in the design of aircraft nowadays, with high-tech avionics, coupled with complete autonomous control of the aircraft, simulators assume critical importance in today’s aircraft operation. The fighter aircraft, on the other hand, call for a different level of training, with very limited time to respond to an exigency in such planes and the complex operations they carry out requires stringent cockpit training.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is on a modernisation spree, with its increasing focus on aircraft modernisation and upgradation, along with the acquisition of advanced new aircraft, a comprehensive infrastructure is needed to train the pilots in a cost-effective environment. With more than 1,700 aircraft and the rising costs and increasing complexities of aircraft and other weapon platforms, resources are required to facilitate effective learning and keep track of the performance of the pilots and make it better.

Air Marshal Sharad Y. Savur (retd) said, “Simulators are important because you need them for all the training and you can avoid 99 per cent of the accidents with good simulators. You can simulate anything, including emergency, on a simulator. A simulator can crash, but you don’t lose an aircraft or the pilot.”

Savur started his career as a squadron pilot in the IAF and retired as Air Marshal. He said that although simulators are a necessity in every aircraft, not every type of aircraft has a simulator. The IAF sometimes ropes in third party companies to procure simulators.

Flight simulators are the most important systems when it comes to any air force. They bring extended realism to training of an individual pilot and to an entire team. Simulators can be used to train pilots in all the skills as well as reserving the aircraft for operational use.

Every aircraft has its own simulator and one type of simulators cannot be used in multiple aircraft, each type has an exclusive simulator. 6-Axis simulator is the most mobile simulator available. Air Marshal Savur, who served till 2006, pointed out that during his days not all aircraft had simulators, like the MiG-21. “Now, most of the aircraft have simulators, so, it’s easy for a person to work on an aircraft. He doesn’t have to fly the first 15-20 hours, which are the most difficult, and you have to get to know the aircraft, how to fly it and what it will do and what it will not do. If those are done on a simulator then you are ready to fly the actual aircraft.”

The IAF has employed a variety of flight training devices for its pilots. The IAF started with the link trainer, introduced a decade ago, followed by hunter simulator, after that, they introduced the Ajeet and Kiran flight simulators. Currently, the IAF is using the Hawk simulator which helps in the majority of the initial training for trainee pilots. Then comes the training on simulators of specific combat aircraft simulators, for example, MiG-21, Mirage, Jaguar and Su-30 simulators or helicopter simulators like Mi-17 simulator, depending on the identified role of the air force pilot.

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