Training for Fire Scout pilots is already moving to 100% synthetic training. “We're Looking at 100% simulation to train aircrew for the Fire Scout and MQ-4 Triton,” Dorrans says. “The cockpit is already separated from the aircraft. Everything that you see on the ground in the cockpit, you can simulate.”
Previously, Fire Scout pilots would train on a Northrop Grumman-built operator station and simulator at Jacksonville before going to NAS Patuxent River, Md., for one week of live MQ-8B flight training. “But all the classes were saying, this is a waste of my time because I can't tell whether you have a real [unmanned aircraft] out there or not,” says Mike Muehlbauer, simulator technical director at the Jacksonville helicopter training facility. He says more than 50 pilots, sensor operators and maintainers have graduated from the program, though the Oct. 11 graduating class of pilots did not make the trek to Patuxent for live flights. Pilots and sensor operators are typically from Romeo squadrons, although Muehlbauer says several “backseat guys” from other platforms, including the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and Lockheed C-130 have come through the program to become drone pilots. Tactics for the Fire Scout are evolving, with the platform initially being used for surveillance, though in the future it could be used as the weapons-delivery aircraft in a flight of two with a Romeo.
The GAO says the 7-year MH-60 and F-18 simulator refresh program will cost $500 million to implement, but the Navy expects to save $119 million in training and readiness costs in 2020 alone, when all upgrades are complete and training changes are made.
Dorrans says the upgrades include “better visuals, better radar and acoustic models and improving the concurrency with the aircraft,” in addition to networking capability for higher-fidelity training scenarios. “It will allow us to take some training events which are currently conducted only in aircraft and do them in the simulators,” he says. “That results in a lower cost to the Navy for operations.” PMA-205 manages the procurement, development and fielding of training systems for aircraft operators and maintainers.
Regardless of the targets, Dorrans says it will be the fleet operators who decide which training and readiness events can be moved to the simulator once the refreshes are complete in 2020.
MH-60 upgrades slated for 2016 include improved aerodynamic models to make the simulator more closely match the feel of the aircraft, an improved simulator debriefing capability and updated ocean models for the helicopter's anti-submarine role. In 2018, Dorrans says door-gunner simulators will be added.
The Navy expects to release a request for proposal for the MH-60 simulator upgrade program in the first quarter of 2014, followed by a contract award later in the year.
East Coast crews training in Jacksonville will not have to wait that long to get a fidelity boost—a second Romeo combined flight trainer, currently being installed, will go operational early in 2014. Having two full systems will allow crews to fly in twos as they do when on their anti-submarine primary mission. The Navy today has a total of eight operational TOFTs for the Romeo: one at Jacksonville (with a second coming online early next year); three at the Naval Air Station Mayport, not far from Jacksonville; and four at NAS North Island near San Diego, supporting the Pacific fleet. Two of the TOFTs are equipped with full-motion cockpit modules, one in Mayport and one at North Island, and are typically used for the lower-time pilots. All cockpit modules have motion-capable seats that provide a feel for the vibration environment in the helicopter, if turned on. Two additional TOFTs are being built, one to be based in Japan and the other in Hawaii.
“I'm expecting a big training paradigm shift here as soon as the next Romeo comes online,” says Muehlbauer, a former Navy sensor operator for 22 years on five different platforms. “Right now when we [simulate] anti-submarine missions, we have to role-play a second aircraft controlled by an instructor at the workstation. We put a second Romeo in the visual system, flying around them; the two talk to each other.” With two TOFTs networked together however, Muehlbauer says he expects about half of the requested training missions in the future will be for Romeo crews flying with the two simulators linked together. “They'll launch as a flight of two just as they would in the real world, and they'll operate as a flight of two, with one pilot as the aircraft commander and going after it together,” he says.