The hidden and often ignored advantages of Simulator training

It used to be that when a call came in for a Helicopter rescue, whoever was on shift, whatever physical or mental state they were in, whatever the state of the aircraft (within reason of course)and unless weather was ridiculously extreme off they would go. Subsequently and not surprisingly Air Support Unit (ASU) aircraft, before and after victim extraction, were being lost. There will be many claims as to who ‘invented’ what is now known as ‘FRAT’ (Flight Risk Assessment Tool) but develop it did on the Navy submission that all safety procedures are written in blood ( for those not familiar with the subject matter that will read as ‘because of blood’).

FRAT (go online for a more comprehensive explanation) identifies such ‘mission influencing’ factors as ‘Human’, ‘Machine’, ‘Environment’, ‘Mission’ and any other ‘additionals’ that may be pertinent to the actual operations of a specific unit. The unit as a team sit down and with their combined experience and knowledge allocate numbers to each of the specifics contained within the main sections. They then decide an overall number (up to that number) in which missions can be undertaken, without prior approval from higher up, when adhering to nominal operational practice. When that number is reached the next chain of command is brought in and that specific mission is dissected so that better understanding of the composite parts of that mission are understood. The commander then has to make a call. There also a number at which the crew are not allowed to fly, no matter how much leverage or machoism is applied. This tool has significantly lowered the loss of life statistics for such missions and significantly increased the awareness of the potential mitigating factors of Air Support Rescue.

Such was the impact of the ‘mature’ FRAT that the Dutch ASU tapped into their country wide network of ground based weather transponders as a link into their internet FRAT form as applied to ASU missions, to get the absolute latest weather updates. As an aside there was a sad example of a crash investigation of a loss of aircraft and life that when a FRAT tool was applied to those particular pre and post-crash parameters and all considerations were identified it was discovered that had the flight been using a nominal FRAT the FRAT number reached, for that mission, was twice the allowance for a safe flight. Although the scale cannot be considered as scientifically logarithmic it must certainly be considered as an ‘accumulatory’.

Macho piloting notwithstanding weather was the number one factor (when reading the after event ‘lessons learned’ documents, known in the airline trade as ‘crash comics’) as often the identifying ‘culprit’ . Having a tool to mitigate weather, team character considerations, inexperienced higher command officers and pushy press etc. has seriously reduced the stress levels in the cockpit as a result of more people having a wider knowledge of the bigger all-encompassing ASU and flight issues!

Here I would like to issue a large thank you, on behalf of those saved, to those crews and management who find themselves with the wherewithal to operate outside of the FRAT. Not because they are Hero’s or Macho’s (because, let’s face it the hardest thing in the world is being a Parent) but because they risked their lives, often as a consequence of someone else being stupid.

Surveillance Systems Simulations

Turrets, Searchlights and Moving Maps

I want to take you past the axiom that a simulator is an operator specific piece of kit. I came across this deviation of thought while presenting a turret simulator to a German Reconnaissance Squadron that I realised were not operators. Their reasoning was, they informed me, that if they could increase the Turret knowledge of the operator (bearing in mind that approximately only 40% of the workings of a top end Turret is actually understood, and I am led to believe, if that!) this would increase the ‘quality’ and ‘accuracy’ of the imagery obtained thereby making the extraction of meaningful intelligence, and subsequently its use, more dynamic.

As I pondered this apparent ‘obvious-ness’ I realised that this was intelligence talking and not experience. Of course if you know your kit ‘better’, you can provide ‘better’ imagery. But, and once more, of course, only up point because if it is not what the ground folk want/need to see the imagery is of limited use.

Anyone steeped in Military History will have read about how effective a good Forward Observation Officer (FOO) is to the ground troops. He is traditionally an Air Force officer seconded to a Battalion and liaises with the Battalion Command (BC) and the Air Force about what is do-able and not do-able in terms of air support. The key to his success is his ability to survive at the front line (often not a given as he is always targeted by the enemy) and direct ordnance in coordination with BC planning and to make sure the BC is not planning anything where ordnance cannot be delivered. There are numerous incidents where the FOO alone was responsible for success in the battlefield (and a lot lost their lives in the process).

While it is appreciated that this is an extreme ample of what I call ‘circular communications’, and applying a similar template to airborne surveillance, clearly having everybody in the loop knowing what ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ be done with your surveillance equipment constitutes a massive advantage.

You only have view the FSI IR awards at the annual ALEA event to understand this fact. (Every year at the annual Helicopter Association International (HAI) event a leading turret manufacturer, in this case FLIR systems, hold a Infra-Red (IR) imagery competition. The degree of understanding between ground and air in terms of voice procedures is very impressive) For the most part and unless there is a surveillance request to cover a public service event (and unless you are the LAPD, who fly near continuous missions) the ASU is a ‘ground asset’. That is correct, the ASU are at the behest of the ground guys to support ground operations.

Think back to what was previously mentioned, that by and large only 40% of your $700k turret is understood by the Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) operating it. If the TFO only understands 40% of the system, how much do the ground guys understand of the $5 million (approximate overall platform costs) asset they control?

You ask a ground based policeman what his ASU platform carries and he’ll probably say ‘a camera’. Indeed on asking that question I have come across many answers but the one most often used is that it takes pictures. This is akin to saying that the James Bond Aston Martin is a ‘car’, uuhhh, well yes!

Turret simulators must be made available to both the TFO to increase his knowledge of what is often a very complex system and the ground personal who would surely increase their call outs if they were fully cognizant of the systems they have at their disposal. Just think: The TFO increase his equipment knowledge and is much better placed to downlink the imagery he knows the ground guys need: the ground guys understand that this asset does much more than just take crime scene stills: and more people get rescued.

I am reminded of the 1978 Hot Chocolate hit ‘Every one is a winner, baby’  

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