To ensure the controllers at Edwards US Air Force Base are at the top of their game, tower personnel train using a high-tech simulator that creates realistic scenarios that would be encountered during normal day-to-day operations. Laura Mowry reports.
Air traffic controllers are known for having one of the most challenging, demanding and stressful career fields.
Personnel are required to make lightning-fast decisions, while using precise verbal communication to keep traffic in the skies and on the ground safe and orderly.
“The control tower simulator provides training at the entry and journeyman levels on air traffic control here at Edwards. It provides three training positions: local control, which controls the active runways; flight data, which is basically the secretary of the tower, passing information back and forth; and ground control, which controls ground traffic,” says Chuck Collins, 412th Operations Support Squadron Air Traffic Control training manager.
“This is an incredible training tool that demands precision from the trainee. Trainees can learn everything they need to know in a place where they can make mistakes without consequences. The simulator is effective and it’s a valuable asset to the overall training programme,” Collins continues.
Air traffic controllers at Edwards face a number of unique challenges in addition to the routine stresses associated with their job, including working with a wide variety of aircraft such as the C-12 Huron, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, KC-135 Stratotanker and various remotely piloted aircraft as the 412th Test Wing and tenant units carry out their missions of flight test and evaluation.
“For this base, we have virtually every aircraft in the Air Force’s arsenal. We are able to have those aircraft on the screen and put them into different training scenarios. We need to know everything from how to integrate them into the pattern to what they look like when they are taxiing,” says Collins.
The simulator’s realistic view is created using technology from services such as Google Maps and gives trainees a complete 360 degree, photo-realistic view of the Edwards airfield. The display even includes a visual of aircraft currently parked on the tarmac. Features include the ability to zoom, pan and track aircraft as they make their final approach or prepare for take-off.
Combining a realistic visual display of the Edwards airfield with voice recognition software, the simulator gives trainees a unique dimension of realism.
“What they try to do is provide training as close to reality as you can get. The trainee speaks into the system, the computer digests what is said and almost instantaneously it provides feedback. Then you’ll see an aircraft follow the instructions,” says Collins.
While personnel undergo training, a supervisor monitoring the session has real-time access to the information and can provide immediate feedback to maximize the simulator’s effectiveness.
The simulator is an integral component of the air traffic controller’s training plan, particularly for the tower’s 13 Airmen just out of technical school who can expect to spend approximately six months learning local control, flight data and ground control on the simulator before having the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in the Edwards tower.
Whether training new air traffic controllers or preparing more experienced professionals for circumstances unique to the Edwards, the simulator ensures that the controllers remain at the top of their game, keeping all who enter the Edwards airspace safe.
The simulator has been in use at Edwards since 2005 when it was purchased from ADACEL, which provides air traffic control simulators to not only the Air Force, but sister services and the Federal Aviation Administration at locations around the world.