gives airmen realistic training
1/21/2004 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.
(AFPN) -- A new simulator is providing realistic, localized training
for 72nd Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers here.
The simulator gives airmen the opportunity to operate in a computer-based environment
before they take the helm in the tower.
"Our new controllers customize what they have learned, either at another base
or from technical school at Keesler [Air Force Base, Miss.] to the specifics
of Tinker Air Force Base," said Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Henry, tower chief controller.
Tinker has bombers, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, tankers and
reconnaissance aircraft calling the base home or here for scheduled depot repair.
Add to that transient fighters, trainers and other types of aircraft, and the
controllers have become familiar with a lot of different systems.
"We need to be teaching our controllers just like they teach the pilots," said
1st Lt. Patricia Hyland, airfield operations flight commander. "We're talking
about flight safety here."
Installing new ATC simulators is ongoing Air Force-wide, but operators at each
base are able to load local aircraft, facility and terrain features, phraseology
and weather into their system.
"This new state-of-the-art simulator will provide a quantum leap forward in the
quality and fidelity of air traffic controller training," said Lt. Col. John
Scorsone, 72nd OSS commander. "We will now take our already outstanding controllers
to a level of experience that we once only dreamed about."
The actual cost of one simulator like the one here is roughly $1.2 million; however
because Air Force Materiel Command purchased them for its bases that have airfield
operations, a package price knocked the cost down to about $800,000. The climate-controlled
building housing the simulator and an adjoining classroom along with electricity,
phone and computer lines cost an additional $100,000.
"This is a small price to pay to give controllers the very best training on their
local assigned airfield and airspace," Lieutenant Hyland said.
The simulator features a 270-degree screen which allows a near-image of what
is seen from the actual tower cab. High-definition images include shadows beneath
wings and rain pattering as it touches ground surfaces. Voice recognition allows
the trainees to get immediate feedback when they correspond with the virtual
This is a giant leap from when trainers used magnets depicting aircraft on a
board, Lieutenant Hyland said.
"Controllers are required to know how to respond to certain events using their
checklists and (to maintain) proper coordination with various agencies that need
to respond," she said.
Scenarios range from routine to heavy traffic with local and transient aircraft,
emergencies, deteriorating weather, radio failure and even wildlife on or around
the airfield mixed in.
"The possibilities are endless," Lieutenant Hyland said.
In the simulated environment, trainees learn all the intricacies of the air traffic
control tower from turning on airfield lights to communicating weather reports
to sequencing airflow. During inflight or ground emergency scenarios they learn
to use the primary crash phone to notify other base agencies, including the command
post and base operations as well as first-responders like the fire department,
clinic and disaster preparedness office.
In this realistic training environment "we can control the traffic intensity
and complexity to ensure that trainees are getting the appropriate 'workout,'" Lieutenant
Hyland said. "Trainees will be much more confident and competent before talking
to live traffic. They will also be able to practice unusual or abnormal scenarios.
"The simulator has an 82-aircraft database, so it not only knows the aircraft
and what they look like but it also knows the characteristics of that aircraft," Lieutenant
Hyland said. "If an F-15 Eagle comes in on final, it is going to be at a certain
speed. It is the same thing with an E-3 Sentry. That teaches the controllers 'OK
this is how much time I have; he's really slow on final' so if a vehicle wants
to cross the runway he can go ahead and clear it across. If it's a really quick
aircraft you'd have to tell him to hold short."
A team of Tinker controllers, led by Staff Sgt. William Botkowski, worked with
the contractors who designed the Tinker simulator program. Contractors took hundreds
of photographs, both looking out of the tower and on the airfield, to depict
specific details. They also recorded aircraft sounds to insert into the scenarios.
"When you hear the sound effects it's pretty realistic," Sergeant Henry said.
The simulator's 15 server-type computers can be programmed to portray the scenarios
that controllers work using the Advanced Touch-Based System which replicates
three primary positions in the tower.
The local control position is responsible for airborne aircraft, lining them
up in order and making sure they land and take off safely. The ground control
position takes care of all movement on the airfield from taxiing aircraft to
support vehicles in transit. The flight data system position works the phones,
passing along information and assisting the others, "sort of like the tower secretary," Sergeant
"The rating process [for a controller] takes approximately a year depending on
the individual and how well (he or she is) doing," Sergeant Henry said. "Time
in the simulator will help immensely."
"Upstairs in the tower things can happen on a dime so you always have to be prepared," Lieutenant
Hyland said. "Being down here in a controlled environment, you can make those
errors. Being able to play that back and let them see an error versus just talking
about it is an enormous benefit."