He flies by the seat at his PC

PENSACOLA, Fla.—Ensign Herb Lacy, a student aviator at the Naval Air Station in
Corpus Christi, Texas, wanted an edge as he began his flight training.

With the help of Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 and some software add-ons he developed
on his own, he found what he was looking for—and he never had to leave his chair.

Lacy spent his off-duty hours enhancing Flight Simulator to give it the look and feel
of a T-34 Mentor training aircraft. He also added Corpus Christi landmarks and visual
references. The software let him simulate flying a T-34 in Corpus Christi while he was
attending an aviation preflight instruction (API) course in Pensacola.

“I bought a flight stick, rudder pedals and even a throttle to apply the very
limited techniques and procedures that we learned in aero and engines class,” Lacy
said. “I was flying around Corpus Christi before I even checked out of API.”

Lacy wanted to get ahead in his flight training. He finished as one of the best student
naval aviators to have completed primary flight training. Rear Adm. Michael Bucchi, chief
of the Naval Air Training program, said Lacy “pegged the top of the grading
scale” during intermediate flight training.

Now, the Navy is hoping the program that helped Lacy can help other students, too.

The Naval Education and Training program’s Assessment Division is studying the
feasibility of using commercial simulation games as education tools.

To study how well the concept works and where it can fit in the flight training
syllabus, the Navy tapped the University of Central Florida’s Institute for
Simulation and Training to run its Microsimulator Systems for Immersive Learning
Environments project.

The MISSILE project began about 20 months ago, with the Assessment Division looking for
some type of deployable simulation programs that would complement the service’s
existing training tools.

The fleet needed a flight training tool that could help pilots practice what are called
perishable skills, said Cmdr. Mike Kennedy, deputy director of the Assessment Division,

“A pilot’s carrier landing ability degrades over time with lack of use, and
some type of simulation program is needed to help bring pilots up to speed before carrier
deployments,” Kennedy said.

After examining the large fixed simulators already in use, division staff looked at
what is available commercially. They found that desktop PC simulators are viable options.

“This technology has the potential to be an affordable way to enhance basic skill
development, sharpen pre-existing skills and allow the practice of tactical thinking every
day,” Kennedy said.

The division found that other student aviators had been using the Microsoft Flight
Simulator 98 to help prepare for their flights.

Kennedy said the game is designed to allow add-ons such as the landmarks and aircraft
flight characteristics, but nobody else had taken it to the level Lacy had. Lacy was
helping out some of his fellow students, and word spread about his program.

Some of the training staff showed the application to Bucchi.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted by what I saw,” Bucchi said. “Never have
I seen any student or instructor buy software and modify it to enhance training. What he
has done is impressive.”

Because of Lacy’s experience with the software, Kennedy put him in contact with
the Institute for Simulation and Training to help with the MISSILE project. The finished
simulation program, expected this month, will combine Lacy’s work with the add-ons
developed by the institute.

“This will enhance the training. The more you can visualize the process the better
you can get,” Bucchi said.

Kennedy said the new app will not replace live training flights but will let students
make “more effective use of flight time.” The Navy has no plans to change its
flight training syllabus, he said.

The development of the add-ons for Flight Simulator also marks a change in the
service’s procurement of training equipment. Often, the military asked vendors to
design and build custom training products.

“This is a great way to leverage commercial off-the-shelf products,” said
Cmdr. Jack Papp, public affairs officer for the Naval Education and Training program.

The PC program will change the way students learn about the flight environment.

Bucchi described learning how to fly by sitting in a chair in his home, closing his
eyes and visualizing everything he would have to do in a training flight. He said he also
would lay out cards with procedures written out on them and then “fly his chair
around the room.”

With the new simulators, students will be able to see what previous student aviators
have been trying to visualize for years. “It will allow students to get a scan,”
said Capt. James E. Droddy, commander of Training Air Wing Four. Droddy said he believes
the program will be a great way to improve the quality of Navy pilots.

The program lets students view of Corpus Christi from the air, allowing them to get
orientated before getting into an aircraft. With the PC simulation tool, pilots can work
on aspects of their training that are giving them trouble or that confuse them. They will
be able to stop the program and review tricky parts.

Life-like simulation apps for the PC have become available only within the last few
years, Navy officials said. The huge demand from the private sector for realistic
simulation programs has pushed the price of simulation games down, letting the Navy step
in as just another PC gamer, officials said.

The cost to the Navy to produce a comparable simulation app would have been in the
millions, Kennedy said.

The Florida University institute plans to deliver the PC simulation this month. Kennedy
said he expects to receive 10 to a dozen simulators at a price of about $72,000. The Naval
Air Station at Corpus Christi will implement a new learning resource center to accommodate
the new simulators.

Once the simulators are in place and available for use by the students, the institute
will gather student data, including flight performance and test scores, for six months.
The Navy will then compare the data against the same data gathered for a control group of
students who did not use the simulation app.

Navy officials said they hope the results of the study will be positive. Bucchi said,
however, that it is possible that Lacy is a natural and would have done well no matter
what he did to enhance his training.


this month = May

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