JOHNSTON, Iowa -- UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots and crew members with the Iowa Army National Guard had an opportunity to train on a first-of-its-kind flight simulator at the Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center here.

The Black Hawk Aircrew Trainer, known as "the BAT," is a highly immersive, home-station flight training device for the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. While the BAT boasts many advantages over past simulators, its primary purpose is to prepare pilots for situations they hope will never happen.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Travis Vanlengen of Boone, Iowa -- a Black Hawk instructor pilot with Company C, 2nd Brigade, 147th Aviation Battalion -- is a certified BAT instructor-operator whose "day job" is to train pilots on this unique simulator.

"The BAT allows us to train pilots in situations we hope they never find themselves in -- [such as] emergency procedures we cannot simulate in the aircraft -- or to train pilots in threat scenarios so they know how to properly react when they're exposed to those threats in Afghanistan, or Iraq or future environments," he said.

Instructor-operators are able to adjust outside factors in the simulator by increasing adverse weather conditions such as cloud cover or icing, or by introducing any variation of enemy fire.

"It also gives me the capability of inducing hundreds of emergency procedures by failing certain systems in the helicopter and having the pilots react accordingly," Vanlengen said.

These failures can include dual engine failure, an in-flight fire, a tail rotor malfunction or various other mechanical failures that often prove fatal in actual aircraft, he added.

CORE OF PILOT TRAINING

The idea of the BAT is not revolutionary. Flight simulators have long been a core of pilot training, noted Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Stumbo, a standardization instructor pilot at Company C, 2nd Brigade, 147th Aviation Battalion, the unit's training officer.

Before the BAT made its way to Camp Dodge in November, Iowa pilots had to travel to Camp Ripley, Minnesota; Fort Riley, Kansas; or Camp Grayling, Michigan, to fulfill their simulator requirements. Based on the distance of these training facilities, pilots were limited to just six hours annually.

"Having the BAT at Camp Dodge is huge for us, because now we can send people down on an additional flight training period, and they can get their simulator time without leaving the state of Iowa," Stumbo said. With the proximity of the BAT, Iowa pilots now have a mandatory 18 hours of simulator training each year in addition to 96 hours of actual flight time."

"Now we're going from just meeting minimum standards to maintaining or increasing proficiency," Stumbo added.

The BAT is set apart from other simulators, first by its design. It's built from actual UH-60M parts, Vanglenen said, ensuring that simulator training is realistic and current.

"This trainer utilizes a whole real front end of a helicopter, using actual components from the helicopter," he explained. "In terms of going between the helicopter and the simulator, there's no difference in the functionality of it. The buttons [pilots] are pushing, the procedures they go through, are the exact same between the helicopter and the simulator."

UPDATED AS FLEET UPDATES

Another benefit of the BAT's real-world design, Vanlengen said, is its ability to be updated as soon as the fleet is updated. Previously, simulators lagged behind the fleet when updates had to be recreated for the simulator -- a problem that could be amplified for the new UH-60M, the most technologically advanced Black Hawk to date, equipped with a fully operational autopilot, GPS coupling and a moving map display.

The BAT system's improved screen technology allows pilots to train with full night-vision-goggle capability, something that previously was not possible.

"This is the most realistic simulator that I've flown," Vanlengen said. "This is a much more capable simulator for full tactical training."

COST-EFFECTIVE VENTURE

Ultimately, the bottom line for the BAT is dollars. Vanlengen said the $9 million simulator is much more cost-effective for regular training than a $17 million Black Hawk, which costs around $4,500 per flight hour in fuel and upkeep. From conception to operation, he said, the BAT has proven to be a cost-saving venture.

The Iowa Army National Guard's BAT is not the first BAT built, nor will it be the last. A prototype unveiled in May serves pilots at Fort Carson, Colorado. Fort Hood, Texas, has the first permanently fielded BAT. Eventually, 11 others will be built and based strategically throughout the United States for Army pilot training.

For now, Iowa's BAT is the only one in the National Guard's inventory, Vanlengen said. It serves about 130 aviators per year from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, he added, providing a combined 2,030 hours of training and saving thousands of dollars.

For Stumbo, a veteran pilot and the officer responsible for training his company of assault pilots, the value of the BAT is not just cost-saving -- it's lifesaving.

"Emergency procedures can happen whether it's peacetime here in the states or overseas on a deployment," he said. "Mechanical failures don't happen very often, but when they do, having the crew trained to deal with those emergency procedures can mean the difference of survivability or not."