FMT's provide A-10 pilots real-world training environment

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Surrounded in a virtual environment mimicking an A-10C Thunderbolt II's cockpit are Moody's 23d Fighter Group pilots who are trained on different scenarios and manipulated missions.

Under the guidance of four Full Mission Trainer instructor pilots, assigned to the 23d Operations Support Squadron, are roughly 60 pilots dispersed throughout the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons who train in a simulator for flight proficiency.

"The FMT gives our pilots opportunities to command avionics and weapons in a 360-degree digitally protected environment," said Lt. Col. Bryan France, 74th Fighter Squadron commander. "[This] allows them to apply those mechanics to accomplish more proficient flying procedures in an A-10 in various ways."

Every A-10 pilot receives monthly FMT training to improve their flying skills.

"The basic FMT mission that every pilot [completes] every month is called simulated emergency procedure training," said Steven Callich, 23d OSS A-10 FMT instructor. "We replicate aircraft emergencies by creating airplane malfunctions and make the pilot control the plane while determining what's wrong with the aircraft. The more they see and deal with an emergency or malfunction, the easier it is for them to handle the situation."

Augmenting flight training is the priority and ultimate objective for the FMT, however, the simulator additionally impacts the Air Force by saving money.

"The cost to fly an airplane is thousands of dollars per hour, but flying in a simulator is pennies on the dollar," said Callich. "We prefer to fly because nothing can replace actual aviation, but there are times when an FMT mission is equally beneficial."

The Distributed Mission Operations is a system designed to equip the FMT with the capability to link devices from other Air Force platforms to perform training tactics and procedures in the same virtual airspace.

"Usually, we have to conduct large exercises with approximately 60-70 aircraft in a big formation at one location," said Callich. "The DMO, instead, enables us to have 60 simulators share the same airspace to conduct a mission. This allows all the pilots abroad to talk and work with one another like they're in a real aircraft during an exercise."

Air Combat Command prefers an A-10 pilot to participate in 12 training events a month comprised of nine sorties and three simulations.

"Just like anything else, the more you practice your skills, the better you get at it," said Callich. "Repetition makes you a better pilot and all we're trying to do is provide more training opportunities."

FMT's provide these opportunities by familiarizing pilots with airspaces they're likely to encounter to increase their awareness.

"We can move pilots to Afghanistan who've never been there before and take them throughout all the places that they could possibly see combat in and the base they're going to fly from with the FMT," said Callich. "Once they finally arrive on their first day they'll go 'hey, I've seen this before.'

For the FMT instructor pilots, they didn't experience the simulator when they were pilots and they now see it as a huge benefit for current flyers.

"The first time we ever touched an A-10 control was [in the aircraft]," said Callich. "We had a cockpit trainer which was a mock up but the switches didn't work. Now, with the FMT, every switch inside functions exactly like the airplane. The only two things the FMT cannot produce is burning gas and pulling G's."

Col. Mark Barrera, 23d Wing vice commander and A-10 senior pilot, vouched for effectiveness of the FMT because it allows pilots to execute procedures and learn in a controlled environment.

"Being able to gain a deeper insight and understanding in certain areas of tactical flying is beneficial," said Barrera. "The simulator allows us to adjust the complexity of training in certain aspects. Doing this in an actual aircraft would be time consuming and costs a lot of tax payer's money."