By Sgt. Alun Thomas, 1st ACB PAO, 1st Cav. Div.September 29, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - The often heard saying 'practice makes perfect' applies to any given field in the Army; the more you do something the easier it gets.
For AH-64D Apache helicopter pilots of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, there can never be enough practice flying the aircraft used in the most crucial combat situations in the fight.
But gaining access to an Apache to train on is not always possible, a situation remedied by the Longbow Crew Trainer, an Apache simulator that allows pilots to train in realistic conditions and develop their flying skills, while not having to enter the skies.
"Having this type of equipment at our disposal over here allows us to train for things that we can't necessarily do in the aircraft," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 John 'Buzz' Covington, from Ridgecrest, Calif., an instructor pilot with Company B, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB. "Because of the limitations of the airspace and control agencies we work with here in Iraq, we don't always have the capabilities to get out far away from the airfield and practice."
The LCT allows controllers to simulate some of the more dire emergencies, Covington said, which wouldn't be possible otherwise.
"While I'm in the aircraft, I can pull back the lever to simulate an engine failing on the person I'm training and evaluate them," Covington said. "When I'm in the simulator I can give them the full experience of having an engine quit or shut down on them."
This leaves the pilot training on the LCT having to make the decisions on how to correct the problems, Covington said.
"They have to correlate all the different indications they get and properly identify the problem and then successfully overcome that," Covington said.
The simulator is a realistic depiction of an actual Apache flight, Covington said, depending on how involved the pilot gets.
"It becomes very realistic especially when you're dealing with an enemy situation and you feel the aircraft rocking and the screen lighting up," Covington said.
"Whenever it simulates you getting hit by small arms fire or RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) it definitely makes the person forget and gives them that suspension of disbelief that they are actually flying the aircraft," he added.
The simulators in Iraq are not linked together like the ones at Fort Hood, Texas, a feature which allows a greater number of pilots to fly together at one time, Covington said.
"That's where we try to practice our scheme of maneuver, operating as a larger force instead of a single aircraft," Covington said. "Although the flight model isn't as realistic, the realism is much more tied in because you're talking to your wingmen, the people in your company and getting radio calls from people."
Covington said he has immersed himself into the simulation so heavily that he has forgotten he isn't in the air.
"I've found myself on the simulator flying a mission and then looked up and seen someone standing next to me and it really startled me," Covington said.
The simulator is used also to check maintenance skills, Covington said, to help get pilots familiar with some of the different features of the Apache.
"We give instrument check rides or have someone move from the front seat to back seat once they've been flying for a while," Covington said.
Capt. Jennifer Falcetto, from Cheyenne, Wyo., a platoon leader from Co. B, said the simulator allows for state of the art training, which is necessary when flying an Apache.
"The LCT is useful because you can stop it in real time, so if there's something you don't understand, they can pause it, explain it, re-do it and help you understand it," Falcetto said.
It also helps reinforce the training already learned, making learning other aspects of the Apache a lot easier to grasp, she said.
"You can take your time, repeat things and get a better overall understanding of what you're doing. For those in gunnery, we can come in, review it and practice it."
Practicing gunnery outside is more difficult, as most pilots have to be on a mission to perform it or practice in certain areas only, Falcetto said.
"When you get a chance to live-fire you actually have an idea of what you're doing and you feel confident in your skills after using the LCT," she said.
Falcetto said the movement of the simulator leaves some of the realism by the wayside, but overall it provides a close comparison to a real flight.
"You don't have the movement of outside, or the depth perception, so in some aspects it isn't fully realistic, but the way it's set up inside, it's just like the real aircraft," Falcetto said.
"It's a positive thing to have and it has definitely helped me."