A new visual system at BAE Systems’ Hawk Synthetic Training Facility (HSTF) at RAF Valley is allowing synthetic training to be expanded into new areas – as well as enhancing existing training.
The greater fidelity offered by nine Evans and Sutherland-supplied, digital 3D-Perception SX projectors means that each trainee is now spending 64 hours in the facility compared with 60 hours when it was first opened (and 27 hours pre-HSTF). Further sorties are under development.
HSTF general manager Roger Vincent, comments: “The better visuals mean that we can deliver new elements of weapons training and tactical formation flying to the customer before the pilots go on to practice these skills in the real aircraft.”
The HSTF service is also expanding into new fields, RAF air traffic controllers from Shawbury have undertaken short courses at the facility to give them their customer’s perspective. The experiment has been so successful that it looks like being adopted by the main air traffic control course.
“We also take new Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs) at RAF Valley and use the simulator to familiarize them with the syllabus and local topography at a fraction of the cost of using real aircraft,” continues Roger. “The team regularly puts together specialist packages to help students struggling with a particular element of the syllabus, thus protecting taxpayer investment which runs into millions of pounds per pilot.”
Since opening of the facility in February 2000, the £60 million-plus, 18-year programme, managed by BAE Systems’ Customer Solutions & Support (CS&S) business, has enabled a larger proportion of the syllabus to be carried out in cyberspace thus reducing overall training costs.
The Company has successfully met, and in many areas exceeded, customer expectations in terms of training volume, delivery and quality. Availability in 2006 stands at 99.86 per cent.
The facility has a number of training devices but the centrepieces are two networked full-dome simulators with multi-channel high-resolution displays. To increase realism, two target projectors are capable of independently displaying targets and ‘friendly’ aircraft throughout the full field of view.
Any training exercises taught on actual Hawk aircraft can be reproduced – and replayed for debriefing - in the facility. These range from basic disciplines to end-of-course exercises. The facility can be used to simulate missile firing and tracking, while the cost, safety and environmental issues posed by ‘real life’ weapons training and extreme low flying are avoided.
Large areas of Wales and other training areas are reproduced within the facility’s database to differing levels of resolution - down to two metres in some places - by overlaying aerial photography onto the basic satellite imagery and then adding still more surface detail in key areas.
Within these corridors, a large number of ground targets is reproduced, including a high-definition reproduction of the Pembrey weapons range in South Wales. Most UK airfields are also mapped, with RAF stations Valley, Mona and St Athan, as well as Llanbedr and BAE Systems’ own Warton aerodrome, receiving particularly high-definition treatment.
In June 2001 BAE Systems also took on responsibility for Ground School where new recruits to the fast jet course study theory in the classroom are taught evasion and survival skills in the mountains of North Wales. Sea-survival and dinghy drills are also carried out in the coastal waters off the Isle of Anglesey.
The Hawk Instrument Flight Simulator (HIFS) and both Hawk Weapons & Tactics Simulators (HWTS) can be networked for interactive tactics, weaponry, formation ground-attack and air-to-air combat manoeuvring exercises. Instructors monitor students’ sorties from consoles at a central control centre where they have full control over all aspects of the synthetic sortie, including acting as another aircraft, either friendly or hostile. Debriefing suites – essentially desktop simulators - allow playback and analysis of each sortie. Up to 36 sorties per day can be flown across the three networked simulators.
The facility is open 14 hours a day during the week and military ethos is a key feature of the operation. Eleven full-time and seven part-time instructors (all ex-military combat pilots with flying instructor qualifications) are employed and paid by BAE Systems, but otherwise the facility operates much like any RAF unit and is accredited annually by RAF Central Flying School.
A typical sortie involves briefing and debriefing of up to an hour each, plus one hour ‘flying’. Instructors can teach everything on the Hawk syllabus within the building. In particular, the safety and environmental issues posed by ‘real life’ weapons training and low flying, are avoided and simulator time is of course only a fraction of real aircraft running costs.
In addition to ‘first-time’ students from the UK and other nations including India, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the facility is also used for a wide range of other training, including the RAF aerobatic team and refresher training for BAE Systems’ own pilots.