LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. — Airmen who come here to learn how to fly C-130s may one day receive iPod touch devices with interactive software designed to acquaint them with the aircraft as they progress through their studies.
Just as training technologies for the newest fighter jets are going digital, so are those for one of the Air Force’s oldest airplanes, the C-130 Hercules.
The use of iPods would mark a dramatic shift in the way the Air Force has traditionally prepared combat airlift crews for service. By incorporating more multimedia into training, it is addressing the needs of young airmen who learn differently than past generations.
“They’re not going to pull out a stack of books and go through them with a highlighter. That’s just not the way it’s done with them,” says Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, which trains all C-130 operators from the U.S. military, along with crews from 34 allied nations. The wing graduates about 1,800 airlifters a year and accommodates an average of 400 students daily.
In part because of fiscal and operational constraints — including fuel costs, budget shortfalls and a deficit of aircraft as a result of the wars and aging — the service is mandating that training hours be moved off of the flight line and into simulations and other computer-based trainers. The initiative, known as reduced flying for initial qualification, or RFIQ, is resulting in an annual savings of 3,600 flight hours and $17.1 million here at the C-130 Center of Excellence.
“This RFIQ initiative has changed the way we do training,” says Shane Evans, senior program manager of the C-130E training at Lockheed Martin Corp., which holds the contract for training airlift pilots, navigators, flight engineers and loadmasters.
Wing Commander Hyde, whose grandfather helped to build C-130 aircraft on the assembly line in Marietta, Ga., points out that the wing is still flying some of those early planes today. “They don’t have a lot of flying hours left in them, so we’re maximizing those flying hours on what’s really important that we need to be doing in the aircraft, and doing everything else in the sim and in the device trainers,” he says.
Under the initiative, the amount of simulation time required for student pilots has increased to 149 hours from 101 hours, while the amount of time flying actual aircraft has decreased to 23 hours from 32 hours. For flight engineers in training, the amount of simulation time has nearly doubled, from 88 hours to 165 hours, while actual flying time in the aircraft has almost halved to 37 hours, down from 60 hours.
But cutbacks in C-130 flying hours has created higher demand for time on the limited number of simulators. The training devices are being treated as actual aircraft, and that means pilots cannot waste time in them practicing non-flying tasks, such as flight checks.
“You can’t afford to do that anymore,” says Lockheed Martin’s Nelson Mayhew, deputy site manager for the C-130 Aircrew Training System program. To lower costs, there is a movement to pull some of the training out of full-motion simulators and into PC-based “partial-task” trainers on which students can learn and practice their skills without tying up the high-end weapon system trainer.
One hour of flight in a C-130 costs about $4,750 for fuel and maintenance. One hour of flight in a C-130 full-motion simulator costs about $700. The costs for partial-task trainers consist mainly of instructor fees, officials say.
Some examples of partial-task trainers include cockpit familiarization and cockpit procedural trainers that look and feel like the real thing, but lack motion. There are also station-keeping equipment trainers that digitally replicate cockpit controls and teach pilots how to fly in formation.
Typically, people think of simulators as being multi-million dollar, full-motion cockpits that replicate flying operations in great detail. But a simulator also can be an iPod touch-based prototype that Lockheed Martin developed and is testing out. The software incorporates 360-degree videos to teach loadmasters where gear and equipment are located on a C-130.
“It basically replicates the back of the airplane, and you can do your checklist off of this,” says Lt. Col. Phil Everitte, commander of the 714th Training Squadron.
“We hand a young airman this device, they can go back to their room at night and they can play with it. They’ll see the whole interior of the plane and they can even do their walk-around before they ever walk out to the flight line,” he points out.
With such a device, crews will become familiar with the aircraft long before they ever set foot in one, and that will help to expedite their learning process, says Lee Wiegand, program manager of the C-130 ATS instruction system design department.
His team has been conducting evaluations on the technology and in tests has proven that the device can shave 10 minutes off of each student’s pre-flight check. “When you start adding it up, it basically boils down to 10,735 minutes a year, which equates to 22 days of device time that we save by using this,” he says.
Many C-130 students deploy to the desert within three months after graduating from the program, says Col. Patrick Mordente, operations group commander at the 314th Airlift Wing.
To continue expediting students’ learning, Wiegand’s team is looking at incorporating additional pre-flight lessons, to include air delivery dual-rail checks, into the handheld training devices.
The reduced flying time has had a domino effect on the quality of training devices, officials say.
“We’re moving from antiquated PowerPoint slide presentations to interactive devices that can test the students’ knowledge,” says Evans.
To comply with the RFIQ initiative, Lockheed Martin recently bought $7 million worth of IT and computer equipment to update server rooms and monitors, and it purchased SMART Board interactive whiteboard technology to add more realism to students’ training.
“The goal is to make our training environment more like the flight line,” Evans says.
Inside the main facility that houses C-130E classrooms and weapon system trainers, a mission planning room is being established. Shelves lining the walls will eventually contain maps, charts and other flight planning tools. A weather channel will be installed so that crews can prepare for their missions at the center table just as they would in an operational squadron.
“It looks like any base operations,” says Maj. Brad Littleton, chief of the C-130E curriculum at the 714th Training Squadron.
In the past, students would receive a mission packet and proceed directly into a flight simulator with the engines already running. They did not attain a true sense of the flow of the process, from mission planning to the pre-flight checklists to starting up the engines and finally taking off, he points out.
The RFIQ initiative also is incorporating the loadmaster into flight simulation training, which is essential for crew resource management — Air Force-speak for how the crewmembers interact with each other on a mission. “The loadmasters and the front of the flight deck normally don’t interface in training at all,” says Littleton. “But on the airplane, they’re an integral part of each other and they work together.”
In a room adjacent to the full-motion flight simulators, work is underway to build a loadmaster’s simulation that will tie into the cockpit trainers. The student will stand at an actual loadmaster’s station to conduct airdrop missions and handle emergencies that may arise during the flight simulation. A SMART Board will display the virtual view of the cargo compartment.
“Anything that’s happening in the weapon system trainer they will see here on the SMART Board,” explains Matt MacAleese, a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin. For example, if the crew in the flight deck opens the ramp and door, the loadmaster student will see video game-quality graphics of the ramp and door opening on the SMART Board. “There will be a load in the center of the compartment and they will be able to watch it leave the airplane. If there are any malfunctions — it gets hung up and the load doesn’t go out, or the parachute doesn’t fall — they will be able to run emergency procedures down here on the SMART Board by being able to touch things, or they will have actual handles on either side that allow them to release the locks,” MacAleese says.
On the C-130J, the newest version of the Hercules that requires only a three-person crew, loadmasters are sometimes referred to as “load-gineers” because they carry on many of the tasks that flight engineers on the legacy models conducted. Both the flight engineer and the navigator positions are eliminated on the J-model. The smaller-size crew has many implications for training.
“There was a dynamic that went on with a huge crew,” explains Mordente. “The navigator was updating the computer, feeding information into your instrumentation. You’re flying; your co-pilot is backing you up. The flight engineer is running all of the systems. When you step into the J-model, all of that stuff being run by three is sitting on your heads-up display,” he says.
The J-model aircraft combines the tactical aspects of a fighter jet’s heads-up display technology with the modern flight management system found in commercial airliners.
“It’s like stepping into a fighter cockpit, with all the multiplex displays,” says Chief Master Sgt. Richard Turcotte Jr., command chief of the 314th Airlift Wing.
Teaching the young crews how to fly the new model is not a problem, because they’re used to the idea of having heads-up displays and a computer driving most of the aircraft functions, Hyde says. But for experienced aircrews who first learned how to fly on the older aircraft models, it’s a case of teaching an old dog new tricks.
“They understand how to fly the airplane, but it’s the whole process of how the human interfaces with the aircraft,” he explains. “The aircraft is automated, so there is less ‘stick-and-rudder’ … That is a shift in how we interface with the machinery, and that’s tough.”
The 48th Airlift Squadron here flies the new C-130J. There are seven J-models on the base, and that number is expected to bump up to 12, as C-130 units at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, continue converting to the J-models.
Legacy aircraft, such as the E-models, will retire once they reach the end of their lives. But others, including the H-models, will go through an avionics modernization program to update their hardware into a common configuration with flatscreens and other technologies that resemble those found in the newer J-model aircraft.
There are 221 AMP aircraft planned in the budget, says Hyde.
In preparation for the updated aircraft, the wing is acquiring AMP-model simulators and putting other infrastructure in place for training crews that will fly those aircraft.
As the active-duty fleet becomes predominantly J-models, and the reserve forces take on the AMP-models, the training personnel for both types of aircraft is expected to merge.
“That linkage keeps the reserve component and the active duty component actively involved in the training of both major weapons systems in the combat delivery fleet, and it ensures a commonality of purpose,” Hyde says.