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Harrier pilots train with top-dollar simulator

By Lance Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani | | July 21, 2005

People all over the world can get thrills from the video arcade flight simulators found in nearly any mall, and these games might be the closest these people will get to flying a multi-million dollar jet. The Marine Corps, however, has spent top dollar on flight simulators that people at the mall could not even imagine.

The Radar Night Attack Weapons System Trainer is used to train station AV-8B Harrier pilots. It is a fully functional Harrier cockpit and canopy, which works the exact same as the actual aircraft, said Capt. Michael D. Trapp, Harrier pilot and Marine Aircraft Group 13 assistant operations officer.

Other than the 360-degree field of view surrounding the cockpit for a pragmatic sense of motion, the simulator also uses advanced software to replicate the aircraft, adding to the realism.

"We actually use Harrier flight software in the simulator’s computers, so we simulate all the sensors in the aircraft and send signals to the computer so it will look the same as it would in the real aircraft," explained, Ron G. Spencer, station flight simulator contracting officer representative.

One of the simulator's benefits is the ability to program any type of condition or scenario, which may not be obtainable during actual flight.

"We can program any kind of environmental condition, such as day, night and weather,” said Trapp, a Tampa, Fla., native. “We can program friendly or enemy aircraft to fly against. We can also recreate just about every scenario in this simulator, (such as) bombing practice, air-to-air (combat), ship-board operations — we'll fly off an aircraft carrier — and we practice instrument work. Most importantly, we practice takeoffs and landings."
Capt. John C. Banton, Harrier pilot, VMA-214, a Lynchburg, Va., native, said what he likes best is the simulator's ability for diversity such as performing a number of emergency procedure scenarios.

The only way to practice emergency procedures is in the simulator, because pilots cannot safely exercise emergency procedures while in flight, said Spencer. In order for pilots to learn successfully, they must practice in the simulator, which allows them to experience trial and error.

"It allows us to make mistakes and learn from them,” said Trapp. “It allows us to put the pilot in demanding situations for training. We can simulate any emergency you may encounter in an aircraft, such as an engine fire, hydraulic failure (or) electrical failure, and we can practice our procedures in here without going to the aircraft."

Harrier pilots from all squadrons visit the simulator two to three times a week for one hour per session to practice proficiency and emergency procedures, according to Trapp.

Because flying an aircraft costs thousands of dollars, the simulator is also a money saver, which allows pilots to practice more, said Spencer.

"It takes thousands of dollars to put an aircraft in the air for one hour," said Spencer. "It costs more to supply the same scenarios in the aircraft rather than the simulator."

Although pilots may get their kicks from the simulator, Banton said a drawback is that the simulator does not come close in comparison with actual flight.

“There is no replacement for actually being in the aircraft,” agreed Trapp. “The sense of flight, the smell, the sound, the feel — you can't recreate those in here."

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