The High Value of Cheap Simulators
September 30, 2006: The U.S. Air Force is getting better, and cheaper, flight simulators. The new B-1 bomber flight simulator, for example, only cost $9 million, and that includes the 30,000 square foot building (containing offices, an auditorium, and the simulator.) In addition, the new simulator can be networked with other recently built simulators, so that aircrew can participate in joint operations with other crews half way around the world.
While the B-1 simulator contains the same graphics capability as fighter sims, and the same hydraulic system under the cockpit to simulate movement, the main emphasis is on handling in-flight emergencies. Bombing missions themselves, these days, tend to be rather uneventful. But many emergencies can crop up, if only rarely, so the bomber crews, just like transport and tanker pilots, have a safe way to practice.
Fighter sims are getting cheaper for the same reason PCs and consumer electronics are. This makes it possible to deploy more simulators, because the new ones cost less to build. You still need 100-200 hours of actual air time a year to retain your chops, but the simulator gives a pilot an opportunity to develop a wider array of moves, and greater skill in the basics. It all pays off when in combat, and flying a simulator costs a few percent of what actual flight time does.