Flying without leaving the ground: McChord’s flight simulators give C-17 pilots, loadmasters the chance to get hands-on experience

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

C-17 Globemaster III pilots stationed at McChord can fly from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to , or without ever leaving McChord.

Three state-of-the-art flight simulators run by Boeing give pilots from all seven flying active duty and reserve squadrons on base the ability to practice emergency procedures, instrument flying, air refueling and assault landings, said Boeing training program manager Lou Matz.

The flight simulator facility, which opened in July 1999, offers continuation and proficiency training for pilots, loadmasters and maintenance crews seven days a week for 18 hours a day.

Encased in a fiberglass shell held up by giant hydraulic arms, C-17 pilots can experience several different simulated weather conditions out of the 220-degree view from the cockpit.

By using the simulators, Mr. Matz said pilots can practice things that are too dangerous to practice in a real aircraft. The simulator training also helps the Air Force cut down on the cost of flying many training missions, he said.

In addition to the simulators, the center houses a room full of computer-based testing stations. Through the quarterly phase training each pilot must take, the CBTs enable the pilots to learn each new upgrade or system change being installed in the C-17.

The center even offers the courses on compact disc for pilots who are being deployed.

"The computer based training was a real radical departure to what the Air Force was used to," Mr. Matz said. "It basically eliminated the classroom academics taught by an instructor."

Loadmasters are offered a similar simulation experience. While sitting in mock cargo bay, the loadmaster can watch a computer simulation of what is going on in the bay.

In scenarios where cargo catches fire or comes unlatched or unsecured, the trainee can then react accordingly while watching his actions play out on the big screen.

While Mr. Matz admits the simulator can't put the "fear of death" in somebody, he said students do get pretty wrapped up in the simulation.

He said there was an incident a couple of years ago when a McChord crew was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

"They said the simulator prepared them well for how to react to it," Mr. Matz said.

The simulator training makes you better prepared for anything that can happen in the aircraft, confirmed Capt. Edward Molenaar, 4th Airlift Squadron.

The captain said when he's out flying a mission, the focus is on completing the mission. But the simulator gave him a chance to slow down and get into a different mindset.

"When you're in the simulator, you're in a student role," Captain Molenaar said. "It handles like the real plane and adds a lot to the training."

While the simulators give pilots the opportunity to learn from situations when the aircraft fails, Mr. Matz said there's a good chance pilots will never have to face that reality when they are flying the mission for real.

"The only problem we've had is that the C-17s are so reliable," he said.