Logistics: July 16, 2005

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Simulators are becoming more popular with pilots, whether they like it or not. It's all about money, or the lack of it. The U.S. Air Force spends an average $8,500 an hour when it's combat aircraft are in the air. In peacetime, most of that flying is for training purposes. Only the transports and tankers will fly a lot of actual work missions. Its known from long experience that pilots need at least 200 hours of flying time a year to maintain their skills. The air force has many things to spend its money on, including developing a new generation of combat aircraft (the F-22 and F-35). This is why the air force is increasingly using flight simulators (which cost less than $500 an hour to operate.) Just turning someone right out of basic flight school, into a novice fighter pilot, costs over a million dollars in flight time (about 150 hours worth). 

Attempts to create flight simulators that are 100 percent realistic have always fallen a bit short, at least for fighters. Theres no way to recreate the g-forces encountered during violent maneuvering. But for most other aircraft, especially helicopters, flight simulators have proven extremely valuable. Helicopter pilots do more tricky flying than most fixed wing pilots. Helicopters often fly low, and in bad weather (if they have the electronics for it), and this takes a lot out of the pilots. Thus helicopter pilots have come to appreciate simulators, where you can practice dangerous situations without actually enduring them. Even fighter pilots appreciate simulators for that, as well as for practicing the increasing number of procedural items (setting up the use of smart bombs, night navigation, emergency drills.) As a result there are more inexpensive simulators around that simulate just enough to get the job done. This approach seems to be working, although pilots still need some time in the air every week to maintain their chops. It appears that this use of simulators produces effective pilots.

 


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