By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 31, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 31, 2014) -- Fort Rucker has many tools to help Soldiers get their boots off the ground, but there is one thing that student pilots can never do enough of -- practice, and that is something officials believe is key to flying above the rest.
There are many types of cockpit trainers on the installation to help Soldiers better grasp the basic procedures of flying helicopters, from expensive to low-cost, old and new, advanced and basic, but all of them, according to CW4 Ben Hays, Training and Doctrine Command capability manager, allow the pilots to practice, practice, practice.
"These machines give students the ability to practice all sorts of procedures without having to schedule the official simulators. They can come over here and practice all they like," he said. "(Cockpit trainers) are procedural trainers mainly used for orientating students with the cockpit, as well as a way for them to practice startup, shutdown and emergency procedures."
The trainers differ from simulators because they are not as advanced and don't move, but they are still an important part of every pilots training, said Robert Vidensek, training instructor at the Aviation Learning Center.
"We have dozens of cockpit trainers all over post, so it is convenient for students to use them. They come on their own time, they don't have to come and practice, but it's best if they do," he said. "If you are a student and your instructor pilot told you, 'OK, you better not mess this startup tomorrow,' the student can practice on the trainers because they have the ability to run through a number of procedures that the students can react to."
Students can get better and faster at these procedures. This allows them to spend more time in the air when out on the flight line, said Vidensek.
And more time in the air is a better way to spend the Army's money, he continued. The Army is always trying to find ways to modernize training, and using the CPTs is more cost effective.
"Cost wise, the cockpit trainers are more economical, and they are a key training tool for them," said Vidensek. "To be able to sit down and practice is priceless for some students. If you were to put two students into a real aircraft and let them startup you are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, while in here its pennies to the dollar."
Many students like using these trainers because it is not as stressful practicing with a buddy as it is with their instructor pilots, and over a weeks' time, Vidensek estimates about 150 students come in to use the trainers located at the technical library.
"They can use the CPTs on their own all they like. Students are really comfortable and don't feel pressure that they otherwise might experience with their teacher overlooking," said Hays. "There are dozens of buttons and switches in any aircraft, so this helps them remember where things are, helps their repetition and muscle memory, and it also builds their confidence."
Before the Army had these trainers pilots would train in the cockpit, but because helicopters are more expensive to own and operate now it is not financially responsible to train that way anymore.
"With the new (trainers) it allows the pilots to learn everything they need, such as going from an analog to a digital aircraft," said Matthew Pellegrino, program manager Science Applications International Corporation Cockpit Emergency Procedure Trainer-Mike. "The training devices that we put out into the field help modernize training and help the pilots correlate what they are learning in the classroom. It makes them more responsive."
Once upon a time, students also learned to hover on what is called the hover board, or the marble table, a simple mechanism where students learn cyclic control and small, coordinated maneuvers.
Students don't use the table anymore, and it is considered by many an oddity in the library, but Vidensek said it shows students how far Aviation has come when it comes to training.
"I like using the trainers for engine health indicator tests," said W01 Thomas Hubbard, B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment. "You never want to get too cozy by just looking in a book or thinking that you will just get better with time when you're in the aircraft.
"You don't have to worry about damaging anything or burning anything up either," he added.
IPs are needed to train in some of the more advanced trainers, while others are for students only. The advanced trainers are much more realistic -- equipped with sound, lights and everything pilots in training might expect in a real aircraft -- to help prepare Soldiers.
Some of the trainers are even government built, owned and operated -- even the software is government owned. This will help keep training updated when airframes are upgraded in the field, something that will keep student pilots on their feet when practicing in some of the Army's most advanced equipment.