01/22/08 — SJAFB gets F-15E trainers

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SJAFB gets F-15E trainers

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 22, 2008 1:46 PM

The Air Force's push to cut spending has come home to Wayne County, materializing in a state-of-the-art training facility for air crews at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base that will reduce the number of dollars spent on F-15E Strike Eagle fuel and maintenance.

But officials say that despite the lack of "feel" associated with training on a simulator, the new mission training center offers opportunities a routine sortie never could.

"You can never replace the actual air time," said Lt. Col. Edwin Kaler, the 4th Fighter Wing's Training Squadron assistant director of operations and chief of training devices. "But (the MTC) allows us to throw (air crews) into the simulator world, link them together from anywhere in the world and fight the battle that we think we are going to fight in the future or practice what we're doing now."

A typical sortie has its advantages, he added, but is limited.

"We can't fly and actually have missiles and those things shot at us. That would be just a bit dangerous," Kaler said. "But in the MTC, we get to see those missiles, do the maneuvers we think we're supposed to do and get a visual picture of what that it is going to look like."

Housed in the wing's simulator building, the MTC is made up of four "Strike Eagle cockpits," offering crews a 360-degree visual that allows pilots and weapon systems officers to practice formation flying, spotting targets on the ground, air-to-ground and air-to-air combat.

And it is a far cry from the weapon systems trainer that has been used for the past 15 years, Kaler said.

"The WST, for lack of a better term, is a procedural trainer. I can do the switches properly, I can apply the instruments properly, I can certainly practice emergency procedures when systems go bad," he said. "Well now, you can do all that and more."

"You can create a lot of things in-house that allow us to train with, say, some F-22s, B-2s and unmanned vehicles," he added. "But then, I can also go through the big portal and say, 'I want to fly with the guys at Mountain Home because we go to Red Flag with them next week. We go fight together, talking over the radio just like we were in the air."

And that ability to link and train with other MTCs is what makes the technology so promising, he said.

Currently there are three bases on a 10-year, $289 million contract with Boeing for operation of MTCs -- Seymour Johnson, Mountain Home Air Force Base and RAF Lakenheath.

Being able to train with crews from those bases is "the first big step," Kaler said, one that might ultimately lead to simulators at bases in theater, within Allied countries and across the United States.

Still, the colonel fears that the cost of the technology won't simply be in dollars.

"This is my concern with the Air Force's push for decreased flying hours and more simulator hours: When you get up there, it takes away about 50 percent of your brain," Kaler said. "Flying is like learning to drive a car. It seemed easy. You saw Mom and Dad doing it and everything seemed fine. But then you got behind the wheel and 15,000 things start going through your mind. That's the same as your average air crew.

"In the sim, I can get you to drop 16 bombs relatively quickly," he added. "But when I take you out in a jet, I also take away about half your brain because in the sim you aren't afraid of death."

Kaler said Air Force officials have pushed for a cutback of 10 percent this fiscal year.

"They reduce the dollars available," he said. "That equates to the gas price and number of hours that they hand to you. You work with maintenance to get as many sorties out of those hours as you can."

Even so, in the face of cutbacks, the colonel said it was good to know that his young pilots would be spending their time out of the jet in the most sophisticated trainer in existence.