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Interesting studies conducted in the past...
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The Evolution of Flight Training

Since late 1970’s, the military has accepted training in the flight simulator as a substitute for training in the aircraft (Smode, 1979). Fuel crisis of that era had been a major factor for this. At that time, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) had emphasized on fuel economy, by calling for a 25 percent of flight hours reduction. This intensified the interest in the cost savings associated with simulator substitution practices, since the military had to find a way to retain the needed training hours. At the same time, substantive engineering advances in M&S technology were reflected in increasing design sophistication; i.e. fidelity of visual and motion systems, instructional control, and in the dynamics and control responsiveness of the simulators. Obviously, technology had reached a point that could support training needs.

Aircraft vs Simulation

In 1962, in the early days of simulation theory development, Gagne stated that there are three strong arguments that support the use of a simulator for training instead of the real aircraft:

  1. The simulator provides its users with greater control over ambient conditions.

  2. Dangerous elements in the operational situation may be represented safely.

  3. Simulators have a low operating cost, when compared to the cost of operating the real aircraft.

Aviation Transfer of Training (TOT) Research

Apparently, substitution of flight hours by simulated hours is the most efficient way to conduct flight training. The main question that rises, though, is whether simulation training is as effective as flight training. Additionally, before implementing such an evolutionary way of training, there had to be scientific evidence that simulation training is effective in all phases of military helicopter training.

Lack of TOT Evidence

Taylor, Lintern & Koonce (1993) defined simulator to aircraft TOT simply and concisely: A flight simulator is effective if the skills that a pilot learns in the simulator can be performed in the aircraft; that is, if the skills transfer from the simulator to the aircraft. The effectiveness of training in a flight simulator is a function of the amount of skill that transfers. Its cost-effectiveness in a pilot-training program depends on the amount of skill that transfer to the aircraft as well as the ratio of simulator to aircraft operating costs.

Even today, simulators are frequently integrated into training systems without evaluating their training effectiveness. Caro (1973) expressed concern that much more attention had been paid to the development of the simulator itself, than to the training program that supports it. Caro (1979) stated that those who have been integrating and employing simulators in aviation training systems had shown considerable skill in getting simulators, even bad ones, to perform their training missions. Caro's observations of two decades ago were echoed by Salas, Bowers & Rohodenizer (1998), who stated that although simulation technology had undergone incredible evolution, the evolution of training was at a virtual standstill. In short, even at the end of the previous millennium, evidence of training effectiveness was lacking for most military aviation simulation and training systems, because little research had been conducted, on this particular subject.

Early Fixed Wing TOT Research

Pioneering TOT research (Mahler & Bennett, 1950) demonstrated that pre-training in training devices produced payoffs for later training in the aircraft. Examples of payoffs included fewer trials, fewer flight hours, fewer errors to qualify in the aircraft (Williams & Flexman, 1949), fewer serious student errors and fewer total errors in the aircraft (Mahler & Bennett, 1950). Early fixed wing studies demonstrated that simulators can be both cost and training-effective (Williams & Flexman, 1949). Another, more recent research emphasis has been on optimizing the mix of simulation and aircraft time, and associated cost- benefits tradeoffs (Povenmire & Roscoe, 1973).

Early Helicopter TOT Research

When helicopter pilots fly, though, they use different cognitive models and psychomotor skills than the airplane pilots, and thus helicopter dedicated research had to be conducted. Caro and Isley (1966) reported the results of an Army TOT experiment involving the “Whirlymite”, a lightweight, single-place helicopter tethered by an articulated arm to a ground-effects machine. Its handling characteristics were the same as those of a lightweight free-flying helicopter. Caro and Isley pretrained student pilots for 3.75 or 7.25 hours on the device, and compared their flight training performance with a non-pretrained control group. Results indicated that the two experimental groups were ready to solo significantly earlier than the control participants, though training time for subsequent evaluation flights did not differ. Whirlymite training was found to produce a significant reduction in eliminations of students from flight training.

Systems Approach to Training

Valverde (1973) acknowledged that the results of some aviation TOT studies, both fixed and rotary wing, had been inconsistent, offering several possible reasons. Finally, studies had differences in their basic designs, especially with regard to the ordering of blocks of simulator and aircraft training events. These were important issues that affected the comparability of studies, whether they were conducted in the 1950s or the 1990s. These studies had evaluated the training device, not the overall program.

At the end of the millennium, according to Stewart III, Dohme and Nullmeyer (1999), scientific or systematic evaluation of simulation-augmented training programs remained the exception, rather than the rule. In their study, they provided important information on two previous projects that evaluated rotary wing training programs that had been based upon an integrated suite of training devices.

The MH-53J training evaluation.

Selix (1993) addressed the question of simulator/aircraft mix for the U.S. Air Force MH-53J Pave Low Combat Crew Qualification Course. With this study, Selix proved the advantages of a holistic, systems approach to training program development and evaluation. The investigation had been driven by the high hourly operational costs of the MH-53J, an extremely complex multi-mission helicopter. In 1986, the MH-53H aircraft qualification course was almost entirely aircraft-based. The increasing complexity of aircraft systems imposed additional training demands when the MH-53H was replaced by the MH-53J in 1990.

After its upgrade to “J” model, the MH-53H aircraft qualification course (AQC) had become the Air Force's longest AQC. Thus, it was decided to offload as many training hours as possible to simulators and a suite of part task trainers. Each part task trainer was dedicated to a specific sensor/avionics subsystem. Students were trained to proficiency in the least sophisticated training device on which a given task could be satisfactorily trained (this had been determined through task analysis). Students did not proceed to the next level in the syllabus until after having demonstrated proficiency. Once these skills were acquired on part task trainers, they were integrated through crew-level practice in the Weapon System Trainer, a high-fidelity, full-mission simulator for the MH-53J. Selix describes the 1993 course as approximately a 50:50 mix of simulation and aircraft hours, and even more simulation- intensive for the tactical and sensor phases of the course.

The TOT of the MH-53J Pave Low training system had been further underscored in a study by Rakip, Kelly, Appler & Riley (1993), who conducted a survey of experienced Pave Low crewmembers and their commanders, who were assigned to operational units. The survey measured perceptions of proficiency and not actual performance-based proficiency.

Rakip et al. found that new crewmembers trained in the simulator had been rated as superior to their aircraft-only counterparts on all criteria except Night Vision Goggles abilities, for which ratings had been virtually the same. The only area where crewmembers trained only in the aircraft showed superior performance was in their ability to fly the aircraft, due to greater accumulated flight time. They also concluded that course graduates trained in the simulator exhibited better, more highly-integrated mission related skills than did those who trained in the aircraft alone.

ARI AH-64A AQC project.

Like the Pave Low project, the AH-64A project was driven by cost considerations. The AH-64A has been a complex, expensive aircraft to operate, so major reductions in training costs should have been possible if simulator time have been substituted for time in the aircraft. In this project, conducted by Wightman and Wright of the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ARI), students were required to practice and demonstrate proficiency in the simulator on maneuver tasks from the Aircraft Qualification Course Program of Instruction (POI). Students practiced these tasks in either the AH-64 Combat Mission Simulator (CMS), or ARI's Simulator Training Research Advanced Testbed for Aviation, which also simulated the AH-64A.

Following these simulator sessions, students demonstrated performance of the same tasks in the AH-64A. On the basis of this demonstration, the amount of helicopter flight training required for proficiency was determined for each student pilot. The results were compared to those of classmates trained within the normal aircraft-based POI. The results demonstrated that offloading training to simulation can substantially reduce the time it takes to qualify in the aircraft. Mean total helicopter flight training time was reduced by 20 hours.

The combined reduction in actual aircraft flight training time resulted in estimated (1997 cost basis) savings of $70,000 per student. The simulation-based POI required approximately 56 hours in the simulator and 25 hours in the aircraft; the traditional POI required approximately 28 hours in the simulator and 45 in the aircraft.

The ARI IERW Experiments

In 1998, a series of experiments were conducted by the ARI’s Rotary Wing Aviation Research Unit to evaluate the feasibility and practicality of training Initial Entry Rotor Wings (IERW) students in ab initio helicopter piloting skills using low-cost simulation and computer- automated training. Since the research had been conducted using random samples of Army IERW trainees as research participants with training embedded into the IERW POI at Fort Rucker, the results had been considered as directly generalizable to that training program. According to Stewart III, Dohme and Nullmeyer (1999), who conducted the experiments, the following conclusions had been supported by the research:

  1. Low-cost simulation is effective in training neophyte students in the basic flight control skills underlying helicopter pilotage.

  2. Training in low-cost visual simulators can substitute for in-aircraft training with no significant loss in trainee performance.

  3. Training in a low-cost simulator can show positive TOT to the aircraft, provided that the visual out-the-window scene and the aerodynamic flight model offer the trainee at least moderate fidelity.

  4. An automated, adaptive, simulator-based trainer can provide significant benefit to the training of hovering flight skills at very low cost.

  5. Improvements in the quality of the out-the-window visual scene such as more polygons displayed, textured surfaces, and faster scene update rates resulted in greater TOT.

Economics of Simulated Flight

As we have seen, the scientific community gradually proved that simulation could provide substantial TOT in all phases of helicopter pilot training. The research and development efforts had been in response to external pressures, both economic and technological, the two systemic factors that still affect the conduct of Army helicopter training.

Outsourcing Training (PFI)

Within the military it is usually said: “To buy a simulator is not a difficult thing, to run one, the way you are supposed to, is the tricky part”. Owing the simulator means that the Armies have to maintain the facility (simulator and infrastructure), and they have to provide the personnel for both maintenance and instruction. This may prove uneconomical, especially when considering the amount of spare parts and equipment that must be continuously available. It may also prove difficult to provide the appropriate personnel for instruction. As the UK National Audit Office reported (1999), the impact of Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel posting cycles had made the management of a simulator project unnecessarily challenging. This did not influence RAF Personnel Branch, though, to provide stability of staffing and appropriately experienced personnel. Additionally, the same research revealed that UK, USA, Australia and Canada had been facing substantial pilot (especially experienced IP) shortages. Although incentives have been given to pilots, the shortage had been expected to increase in the next few years.

Flight simulator utilization in army helicopter pilot training can significantly reduce training costs by replacing a substantiate percentage of flight hours by less expensive simulated hours. Applications at the beginning of new millennium had proved that coordinated simulator integration in a flight training program, may reduce actual flight training hours about 50 per cent (NTSA, 2000). The British Army curriculums had reached 60 per cent simulated training utilization (Cook, 1999). There were situations were a 75 per cent reduction had been achieved (Richfield,2006), as in the case of the V-22 Osprey. Although it was an extreme value it proved that there has been an incremental tendency on the percentage of actual flight hours replaced by simulated hours.

Researchers that conducted studies on flight simulator costs found that the relative cost of simulated versus actual flight hour depends on the type of the helicopter and the operator. For example, the relative cost for the U.S. Army CH-47D is 1/7 (NTSA, 2000). For the Australian Army operated UH-60 helicopter, the ratio was 1/12 (Australian National Audit Office, 1999). The aforementioned ratios of simulated versus actual flight hour cost referred to the cost of simulators that were procured and operated by the armies. In the case of PFI simulated flight hour cost is different, and there is no clear information on the exact money Armies pay per simulated hour. Still it should present an important reduction to the overall training cost. British officials reported that, by using PFI, the RAF saved 20 per cent on simulator costs relative to a straight procurement (Cook, 1999).

Undoubtedly, when these managerial factors are combined with overstretched personnel, due to continuous deployments in conflict areas around the world and the intensive training needs, due to the increasing demand for combat ready pilots, the idea for outsourcing training seems ideal.

Optimizing PFI

The US Army and US Air Force had turned to service contracts for aircraft simulator training, because efforts to modernize existing simulator hardware and software had lost out in the competition for procurement funds.

Government’s Accountability Office (GAO) had been called to research the factors that led the military to acquire simulator training as a service, whether the implementation of the approach had been executed as planned, and whether the military had been effectively tracking the return on their expenditure.

GAO’s research revealed that the new simulators had been significantly improved over the previous ones, but there had been implementation schedule slippages. Also, the research revealed that the decision for acquiring training as service had not been supported by a thorough analysis, despite a Department of Defense (DOD) directive that had provided for such an analysis. The return on expenditure of taxpayer dollars had not been effectively tracked because:

(a) simulators had been used less hours than the hours they had been paid for, (b) the government had little insight into what had been paying for during the development period before training was activated, and (c) because most contracts contained award-term provisions, where the contractors could earn an extension of the contract period for good performance, while being evaluated on factors that did not measure key acquisition outcomes such as simulator availability.

The Spreading of PFI

By 2006, Flight School XXI (FSXXI), the most important army helicopter training PFI, started the production of top quality pilots (Gibson, 2003). These pilots had been more proficient than those that were trained under the traditional POI, while their training cost less, since FSXXI has been designed to maximize the use of high fidelity M&S. Actually, they have been the first “Readiness Level 2” aviators to show up in actual combat units (Harvey, 2006), immediately after their initial training.

In November 2006, the Ascent Consortium, comprising the VT Group and Lockheed Martin, has been selected after a two-year wait as the preferred bidder for the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS), which would modernize flight training for Royal Navy (RN), RAF and British Army aircrew and would reduce overall costs by bringing together the current range of fragmented training schemes into a cohesive and more effective package (Berry, 2006). At that point, UK’s Medi Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) at RAF Bens had become an invaluable asset for the RAF’s helicopter deployment in Iraq. The provided combat training and mission rehearsal capabilities gave RAF pilots the opportunity to undertake limited operational tasks within a day of arrival (Allen, 2005).

The establishment of FSXXI, and UK’s continuous commitment to outsourcing helicopter pilot training, has become the mold for the rest of the NATO countries. After these two big projects became a reality, many armies started resorting to PFI solutions, adjusted to their budgets. Germany launched a PFI for their brand new helicopter, the NH-90. The contractor was Helicopter Flight Training Services Gmbh (HFTS), founded by an industrial consortium that would design, build and operate three NH-90 training centers (Military Technology, 2005).

Bombardier won the NATO flying Training in Canada, to provide basic and advanced flying training to the Canadian Forces and other countries, including Singapore (Oliver 2005).The French Ministry of Defense awarded EADS a five- year contract for the management and support of ab initio pilot training for the French Air Force that included the procurement of both training aircraft and flight training devices. In November 2006, Lockheed Martin was awarded a 20-year contract by the Singapore Defense Science and Technology Agency to support the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Basic Wings Course (BWC). Lockheed Martin's role as the BWC training systems integrator is to provide aircraft, maintenance, ground-based training devices, courseware and instructors to the RSAF's 130 Squadron at Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce, in Western Australia (Oliver, 2007).

Ecole Franco-Allemande (EFA), the joint training centre for French and German Tiger crews, at Le Luc, Var in southeast France is a completely new facility equipped with classrooms and flight-training devices ranging from Computer Assisted Training (CAT) stations, Cockpit Procedure Trainers (CPT), Full Mission Simulators (FMS), with its own hangars and maintenance facilities. With the first student intake passing through in 2006, the school trains pilots, crew commanders and section leaders to operate the Tiger system (Oliver, 2007).

In addition, Israeli Elbit will establish the Air Force’s first civilian-run simulation training center for pilots and crews of special mission King Air B200 Beechcraft planes. Elbit was selected on February 2007 for the 10-year PFI in a continuous cost cutting effort. Israel, with this PFI and another one planned in the coming years for basic Air Force pilot training, has demonstrated desire to privatize as many non combat services as possible (Opall-Rome, 2007).

In Australia, the use of simulation has been dramatically increasing in the Australian Defense Organization (ADO) over the last few years and a significant expenditure of 1.5 to 2.5 billion dollars over 10 years is cited for future simulation development. This investment is expected “to be managed and coordinated in collaboration with the country’s industry partners and international simulation organisations to ensure each dollar is well spent” (Mc Farlane, 2006).

At the same moment that PFI has been spreading all over the world, a surprising new U.S. law that forbids “fee-for-service” contracts, came to sharply curtail or halt the PFI practice in the world’s biggest defense market. On the other hand, the industry should have been expecting such an implication. The U.S. Air Force “jeopardized its own projects” (Weible, 2007), because of inadequate oversight and managerial efforts, as the 2006 GAO report on service contract management concluded.

It was not expected that this law would undermine the PFI trend. The U.S. 2007 Defense Authorization Act and the 2006 GAO report did not criticize the concept of PFI. They just proved that PFI realization needs extra managerial efforts. PFI is the crossroad of two different worlds: (a) the public, and (b) the private sectors, that do not share the same dreams and goals. Inevitably, careful steps are needed for a long-term viable balance to be established.


Since late 1970s, the military had accepted training in the flight simulator as a substitute for training in the aircraft. Control over ambient conditions, safety enhancement and low operating cost, made simulators an invaluable training platform. Before the advent of the new millennium, a series of helicopter specific experiments and studies took place. The results proved that helicopter simulation offers significant improvements in all phases of pilot training.

Pilot training cost reduction, due to simulation utilization, can be optimized under a thorough training program development process, with a systemic approach to training. Such a system, such as ISD, identifies pilot training needs and thrusts simulation utilization to support instruction for these certain needs.

At the beginning of the new millennium, countries that got involved in conflicts faced increasing demands upon defense budgets and their armed forces were turning to leasing or payment-by-the-hour contracts with flight simulator manufacturers. UK, Canada, Australia, and USA resorted to PFI and it was expected that this method would also boom the simulation training industry in EU countries.

Statement of the Hypothesis

It is hypothesized that there is a relationship between a country’s army aviation helicopter fleet and the number of simulators the country can use efficiently, which might support the decision to buy turnkey simulator training from a locally established and privately financed helicopter training center. The purpose of this project is to identify those European NATO countries with an Army Aviation fleet that can support the establishment of a PFI Helicopter Training Center; and whether Greece is one of them.

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