Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is entering the latest frontier of flight simulation technology with the Army-owned and operated Black Hawk Aircrew Trainer, or BAT, a highly immersive device that the installation began using May 3.
Boasting a complete UH-60 cockpit, state-of-the-art visual systems and a dedicated operating station for instructors, the BAT allows pilots to build mission readiness while saving the Army both time and money.
“Since the Army has the rights to the software, it’s not a proprietary issue,” said Tim Hight, chief of Training Support, Training Division, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “As the aircraft gets upgraded, the simulator is directly in step. In the past, it cost the Army a lot of money to update the software, but now that the Army has bought the rights, we can stay concurrent with what the aircraft has on board.”
DPTMS also expects to see reductions in labor, material and maintenance costs after purchasing the BAT for roughly $10.3 million. Hight said the system should pay for itself within three years.
“It’s a 12:1 cost savings,” said Fred Workman, supervisory training support specialist, Jones Training Support Center. “We’re talking about maintenance, fuel, wear and tear – getting in the device versus being in an actual aircraft.”
The Utility Helicopters Project Office, or UHPO, out of Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, began fielding BATs in August 2016 and expects to see them in use Army-wide by the first quarter of 2025. Fort Campbell was the 15th installation to receive the technology.
“It’s really the tip of the spear for Army aviation – Fort Campbell and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade in particular,” said Allen OBrion, UH-60 operational devices (Training Aids, Devices, Simulators and Simulations) lead, UHPO, Program Executive Office-Aviation. “We delayed Fort Campbell slightly because we have a new configuration BAT. Our first 11 were UH-60M only aircraft models, and this newest one accommodates UH-60L as well, which is the legacy Black Hawk.”
Because the installation uses both of those models, UHPO decided to wait until the BAT could support them before fielding it to Fort Campbell. The result is a more streamlined version of the Transportable-Black Hawk Operations Simulator, or T-BOS.
“BAT is a big improvement as far as facilitating the training and making it easier,” said Chris Hill, a training instructor with DPTMS. “More time is spent training than loading or resetting the device because of errors, and it’s as close as you can get to the real thing without being in the aircraft.”
Using a system like BAT also allows pilots to train under conditions that cannot be replicated in exercises with live aircraft.
“One of the most significant advantages of a simulator is you can give them things you can’t in the aircraft, like a fire or a hydraulic malfunction or threat,” said Paul Riccio, a training instructor with DPTMS. “You can shoot at them in the simulator all day long, make it nighttime, put them in a thunderstorm or icy conditions. The environment is completely manageable by the operator, and you can make it whatever you want.”
A majority of Fort Campbell’s instructor pilots and simulator operators received BAT training the first week the system was in use, and now the pilots of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), are settling into their own training rhythm.
DPTMS offers five BAT training periods a day, Monday through Thursday, and each session allows for three pilots including the operator. Usage is being determined through a regular training rotation.
“It’s been almost a seamless transition,” Hill said. “They’re doing everything they can do in the aircraft, from emergency procedure training and instrument flight rules to sling loads and flying against a known threat and using the aircraft’s survivability equipment to counter it.”
Many of those exercises count as credits for the Commander’s Aviation Training and Standardization Program, which includes annual requirements for Army pilots.
“You get more realistic training out of the device than you did with our older legacy devices,” OBrion said. “When you couple that with the synthetic training environments that basically replicate the real world because it’s based on satellite imagery, you really have a feeling that you’re flying at Fort Campbell, Korea or wherever the data is pulling from.”
BAT’s ability to keep pace with innovations in aircraft technology further enhances its impact on mission readiness, and OBrion said it has been well-received at other installations.
“That’s one of the things we didn’t have with the T-BOS, and it got so far behind,” said John Kokoski, a training instructor with DPTMS. “As updates happen with the aircraft, we’re going to update this similarly.”
Fort Campbell also benefits from the BATs being built in nearby Huntsville, Alabama, which gives DPTMS easy access for troubleshooting and other issues.
“We have a good working relationship, they’re close by and basically any time there’s a new upgrade we’ll be first in the hopper to get it,” Hight said. “But I think the biggest highlights are the cost savings, the superior electronics package and the Army actually owning the software.”