'Virtual Hog' ready to put Moody's pilots under pressure

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
An A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot assigned to Moody's 23rd Wing dives through a low cloud deck in the mountains outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, searching for his targets; a pair of trucks firing on an Army patrol.

The pilot can hear the strain in the voice of the joint terminal air controller as he receives targeting data, pops over the ridge line into the contested valley and rolls in for a gun pass with the tank-buster's massive 30mm cannon. With a trigger pull and a satisfying roar, the two vehicles explode into fireballs as he begins looking for a safe route out of the narrow valley.

Suddenly, an unseen surface-to-air missile strikes the pilot's right engine. As warning lights illuminate his dying pressure gauges, his priorities quickly change from kill to survive. Radioing his status to another pair of aircraft working nearby, the Flying Tiger knows he is losing his battle for altitude and isn't going to make it over the ridgeline ahead.

Seconds before his $12 million attack aircraft slams into the side of the mountain, he wonders what went wrong, yanks on his ejection handles and his world freezes in place.
He can still hear the rest of the Airmen in his headset, but as far as they are concerned, he is dead.

As the lights in his simulator come all the way up and the curtain behind him opens, he thinks to himself that at least in a digital war, you can learn from your lessons, instead of die from them.

The pilot was fictional, but the technology he was using is a reality here at Moody, said Steven Callich, A-10C full-mission trainer instructor.

Currently, it is one of three operational A-10C simulators in the Air Force.

"The only thing this simulator can't do that a real aircraft can is burn gas and pull G's," said Mr. Callich, referring to the forces a pilot is subjected to during high-speed maneuvering. "The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is required to make this device mirror the actual aircraft in every way, so it's amazing how real it seems in the heat of a crisis."

Upgrades are being performed on the A-10A fleet in order to digitize the cockpit's informational displays and allow it to carry modern precision guided munitions. Every A-10 arriving for permanent bed-down at Moody will be an upgraded A-10C, said Mr. Callich.

"The A-10C cockpit has been redesigned to provide an all new pilot-to-vehicle interface that takes on the mechanization and look of the F-16C," he said. "This includes two high resolution multi-function color displays, an eye-level mounted up-front controller and all new hands-on-throttle-and-stick functions."

These drastic changes to the pilots 'front office' are mirrored in a completely new simulator, he said.

The moment 23rd Fighter Group Thunderbolt pilots begin arriving in August with their upgraded aircraft, they will be able to use the new $3.2 million trainer to gain mastery of the A-10C's improved digital systems.

They will also practice how to bring them home safely under any circumstance, said the instructor.

"This FMT is the perfect tool for providing a safe and realistic environment for training complex emergency procedures," he said. "I can realistically recreate the failure of every moving part on an A-10C, either individually or all at once depending on my mood. Hopefully, a pilot will never actually see the calamities I can cause in his cockpit, but if he ever does, this facility will ensure he is able to handle them."

The FMT can also be connected to other facilities around the Air Force in a virtual battle-space known as the distributed mission environment. The DMO is used to train complex tactics and procedures at a fraction of the costs and risks of actual combat, said Mr. Callich, a former A-10 instructor pilot. Complex missions can be flown over hostile territory with the squadrons they will actually work with in-theatre, risk free, until the execution of a complex plan is perfect.

The DMO can also be used to maintain competency in one of the A-10C's primary missions--close air support, said the instructor. Joint terminal air controllers can connect their own simulators to the DMO and control the same battle-space seen by pilots flying overhead. As an A-10 swoops in to destroy a target, the JTAC will see it explode on his screens. This realistic training is essential to prevent friendly-fire incidents and battlefield confusion.

Eventually, the simulator facility at Moody will house four A-10C FMTs and a full-motion HC-130P simulator, he said. These will all be connected to the DMO and will enable Moody's pilots to perform complex missions together.

"This facility will be able to provide aircrews with an environment where they can learn from their mistakes and improve, instead of costing the Air Force millions in dollars or possibly being hurt or killed," said Mr. Callich. "There is no doubt in my mind that after a pilot leaves this simulator; they are better prepared for their mission."