The IAF is flying into the 21st century— this time on the ground. The Advanced Training Center, in which there is a new mission trainer (i.e. a simulator) will allow aircrew members to improve their skills. But they are not alone; soldiers from the Flight Control Division will also train at the Advanced Training Center and the joint training will only improve the operational capabilities of the IAF.
Welcome to the A.T.C. (Advanced Training Center)! It is here that you will find the sky below and the ground above, albeit on a 360° screen that produces a realistic display. Every time aviators from the F-16C/D and F-16I squadrons are deployed to the Advanced Training Center, the experience is simply exceptional.
Groundbreaking and Boundary-pushing
“Generally, it is correct to say that there will never be a full substitute for a real training flight”, says Brigadier General Amikam Norkin, Head of IAF Air Division. “In certain places, aerial training encounters obstacles and limitations, for example limited airspaces and the level of risk safety-wise the IAF is willing to take during the training.
The ATC is groundbreaking, pushes boundaries and pushes the envelope when it comes to training and allows for a level of training that we haven’t had until now. It is not meant to be instead of real training flights, but rather in addition to them”.
The high standards of the ATC begin with the infrastructure and the technology and include the organization of the training and the different types of missions, all of which allow the operational squadron undergoing training to exhaust all possibilities.
“It is completely new instructional media that we haven’t experienced yet: flying alongside a numbers of jet-fighters and performing missions in the virtual world in a joint manner in operational flight areas with our weapons systems. The trainer can simulate a relevant area in the Middle East and threats that we are likely to encounter. This is a new level of training and as such, the level of training in the IAF will rise.
During the training session, an operational squadron is disconnected from the routine for a week and goes on to live in a war-atmosphere: a week of briefings, operational planning and the debriefings that raise the flight level of the squadron. The lessons that arise from the training are quite specific and help the squadron concentrate on its operational level”.
How are flight skills produced in the simulator?
“It’s very important that we be creative”, says Sergeant Tzuker, an instructor at the center. “We have to be sharp. Of course, the flights are all similar but each flight has a different formation leader. I have to know mainly how to deal with changing situations”. Even the aircrews have to come to these flights with an open mind.
“When you fly on a training flight in a connected simulator, you enter a different ‘mode’”, says First Lieutenant Alex, a fighter pilot. “In a real flight, there are many limits, so you can only imagine and pretend you are facing real situations. At the Advanced Training center, what starts off as a routine virtual flight becomes more operational-in some ways, more than actual training flights”.
Loosening the Restraints
“There’s a certain metaphorical restraint that a pilot learns to adjust when he flies on training flights and when it comes to the trainers, we have to completely loosen them. You have flown differently, you have seen different pictures and you have received pretty realistic training. The feeling of a plane and the experience on an aircraft are important, but at the end of the day, we came to fight and this training, which loosens the restraints, is very important.
The trainer produces a training package that is more or less ready and generally, in order to match it with your squadron, only minor adjustments are required”, explains First Lieutenant Alex.
For anyone who still does not understand, this is one of the most advanced training simulators in the world and when you enter the Advanced Training Center and you arrive at the cockpits surrounded by display domes, you become impressed with the advanced technology.
“The feelings with which you leave the training are amazing”, adds First Lieutenant Alex. “With this trainer, you not only save fuel and flight hours, you also get a one-of-a-kind training experience”.
In the simulator, the aviators train for different scenarios and practice a full flight, from the briefing in the beginning to the debriefing at the end. As a result, the work of the instructor at the ATC is complex and unique. Beyond operating the simulator, the instructors have duties that change depending on the practiced situation and they have to complete the simulation of the battlefield for the trainees so that the training will be as close to the reality as possible.
“Sometimes it means adding another plot of land and sometimes it means adding ground forces”, Sergeant Tzuker explains.
Brigadier General Norkin, who took part in one of the training-sessions, feels that the training creates a professional challenge for the aircrews and that the spirit of warfare and the competition are diluted in the atmosphere of the training. “The visual capabilities are amazing. Technically, it’s a cockpit of an F-16. It will never replace an actual flight, but it gives you a feeling that’s the closest to the reality”.
Brigadier General Norkin explains that the blending of different types of training exercises in the force was tested and it was determined that the basics of flight would be practiced in the air because a pilot needs to learn how things look from the air: strike and interception training exercise, a flying formation, a low-altitude flight, aerial combat and night flights.
Nonetheless, the simulator trains pilots for flights in new areas and missions similar to the missions at the moment of truth and that way the force will be more prepared for times of need.