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Fairchild simulators ensure proficient aircrews across AMC

The inside of a KC-135 Stratotanker boom pod waits to take-off at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, July, 30, 2020. With the Boom Operator Weapon System Trainer, Airmen can complete 95% of their training requirements needed to perform real-time operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)

The inside of a KC-135 Stratotanker boom pod waits to take-off at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, July, 30, 2020. With the Boom Operator Weapon System Trainer, Airmen can complete 95% of their training requirements needed to perform real-time operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)

U.S. Air Force pilots from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron perform pre-flight checks at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, July 30, 2020. Pilots practice all pre-, mid and post- flight checklists in simulator provided training, enabling them to maintain proficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)

U.S. Air Force pilots from the 97th Air Refueling Squadron perform pre-flight checks at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, July 30, 2020. Pilots practice all pre-, mid and post- flight checklists in simulator provided training, enabling them to maintain proficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --

A KC-135 Stratotanker pilot begins the climb up the ladder into the flight deck, preparing for a routine take-off. The pilot takes his seat and opens up his pre-flight checklist. Everything starts as usual: systems are on, radios are up and engines are turning. Then unexpectedly, a loud crash from the back of the aircraft shakes the pilot and his fellow crew members on the flight deck, causing a state of disarray. All the systems that were once perfectly functional are going haywire. Alerts ringing, lights flashing, the pilot then looks up and sees nothing but smoke blanketing the flightline in front of him. He quickly thinks of his next step on what to do, but before he could react, a voice from the behind the pilot says, “End simulation,” silencing the chaos that was overtaking the aircraft.

Team Fairchild’s KC-135 flight simulator and Boom Operator Weapons System Trainer, ensures the proficiency of Fairchild’s pilots and boom operators conducting the Rapid Global Mobility mission.

The simulator and BOWST are used by all aircrew Airmen on Fairchild as an efficient training tool to practice normal air refueling missions, aircraft malfunctions and simulated scenarios commonly seen during flight operations.

“As a pilot, I could practice things in the simulator, become proficient at them, and once I see that situation in real-time, I know how to handle it comfortably,” said Brad Hamby, 92nd Operations Group KC-135 Stratotanker simulator site manager and former pilot. “The simulator provided training I didn’t have to do in the aircraft, enabling me to maintain my proficiency.”

Whether it is hazardous conditions on the flight line, or dangerous scenarios with aircraft malfunctions, the simulators provide realistic training that cannot be as efficiently learned during normal operations.

“There are a bunch of malfunctions that can occur in an aircraft that we can simulate,” Hamby said. “We can simulate engine fires and hydraulic malfunctions—to provide pilots experience and ‘know-how’ in the unlikely event they are faced with those hazards.”

In an effort to reduce wear and tear on aircraft, the Air Force is pursuing the increased use of simulators for specific training for aircrew Airmen.

“Students now can complete their mission certified training through the BOWST before they even get to the flight line,” said Master Sgt. Justin Hunter, 92nd OG aircrew training superintendent and boom operator. “This gives boom operators more room to get the extra training they need, without relying solely on the jet.”

Prior to the arrival of the BOWST in 2012, the primary method of training for boom operators after their initial technical training was through real-time in-air operations. 

“It’s an efficient training tool for scheduling because instead of gathering a bunch of boom operators for a single flight, they can meet the training requirements in the BOWST,” Hunter said. “It simulates everything. You can simulate both day and night, add weather and simulated malfunctions that you can’t practice on the aircraft.”

In the event of training cancelations due to either weather or maintenance, the prolonged period between trainings can limit the amount of current and proficient flyers needed to successfully conduct the mission. However, with the simulator and BOWST, Airmen can complete 95% of their training requirements needed to perform real-time operations.

“The importance of having the BOWST is its ability to keep the mission going,” Hunter said. “Especially for the amount of squadrons and boom operators that we have here at Fairchild.”

The simulators are constantly being upgraded to the latest technology. The most recent being the addition connecting the simulators to the distributed Mobility Air Force operations network, which allows fellow Air Mobility Command bases to connect their simulators and perform simulated missions.

“The distributed MAF operations network allows us to connect to simulators throughout AMC, and perform simulated air refueling missions between different units,” Hamby said. “It’s difficult to keep receiver pilots from different units current in air refueling training, so this network connection ability helps ensure that is accomplished without the cost of having to send an aircraft off-station.”

Operation costs of the KC-135 pilot simulator is approximately 12 times less than performing real-time operations with an aircraft, allowing the Air Force to save money and generate efficient aircrew Airmen to execute the Global Reach mission.

“In comparison, the KC-135 pilot simulator costs approximately $480 per hour to operate, while the KC-135 basic aircraft flying hour cost for AMC is approximately $5,800 per hour,” said Clifford Sanchez, AMC KC-135 aircrew systems training manager. “Aircrew training in the simulator not only allows the Air Force to save the 65-year-old tanker from high wear rates, it also provides equal or greater tanker air refueling offload capability to warfighters with a smaller tanker fleet.”

The use of Team Fairchild’s KC-135 simulator and BOWST is essential not only to the readiness of aircrew Airmen to compete, deter and win, but to the success and continuation of sustaining Rapid Global Mobility.