The instructors behind virtual take off

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David Phaff
  • 47th Flying Training Wing public affairs

Over the past decade, anyone with a computer and a copy of flight simulator software has had the experience of flying over the virtual skies.

The United States Air Force takes this concept to a whole new level and the simulators they use to train student pilots at Laughlin Air Force Base dwarf the at-home versions. These monstrous contraptions even mirror the layout of the aircraft down to the smallest detail.

“I’ve been a civilian simulator instructor (CSI) for 15 years, and I'm still amazed at the visual and tactile realism even at the instructor console,” said David Loftus, 47th Operations Group director of academics & simulator training. “To be honest, the sim can be more difficult than the aircraft at times, so mastery of the simulator leads to real benefits in the aircraft.”

The CSI cadre responsible for running the sims relish the vital role they play in helping shape America’s next generation of pilots.

“Our simulator instructors are a crucial part of Laughlin’s pilot training mission,” says David Loftus, 47th Operations Group director of academics & simulator training. “Even before student pilots meet their instructor pilots or get close up to an aircraft, they encounter the CSI who will teach and encourage these new budding aviators everything from strapping into the ejection seat to advanced flight maneuvers.”

The students find benefits from the simulators that help prepare them for real aircraft.

“The simulators help a lot with the fact that you can get a feel for where all the switches are and how everything is situated,” says 2nd Lt. Ben Steverding, 47th Flying Training Wing student pilot. “You can’t prepare for everything obviously but it's a good warm up before you get behind the stick.”

Over the past couple decades, the Air Force has made great strides in upgrading the simulators to better mimic real life and provide the most realistic experience, training pilots to react in every situation. With this training it is shaping new pilots and helping form the Air Force we need in this ever changing world.

“Thirty years ago when I went through Air Force pilot training, the sims were clunky, the visuals were cartoonish, now, we have state-of-the-art equipment,” Loftus said.

The realistic scenarios created in the sim allow instructors to better mentally equip pilots for any situation that may arise in the air.

“We are educating professional aviators, and part of that process involves helping them learn to think and behave like a pilot,” said Tom Kline, 47th Operations Group T-38 lead instructor. “By exposing them to a dynamic, yet controlled environment with aircraft malfunctions and changing weather, we are building their confidence and competence as leaders in their current and future assignments.”

The CSI also help with manning. Active duty instructors previously served as sim instructors as an additional duty.

More so sim instructors help in developing the service, support, and sustainment framework to support the much needed increase in boosted operational capacities.

“Having a dedicated and knowledgeable staff of instructors whose sole duty is sim and academic training, really allows us to concentrate on aircraft missions and affords us more time and attention on the student’s flying needs,” explained 1st Lt. William Studley, 434th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot.

All of the sim instructors at Laughlin share two main attributes. First they are all qualified pilots--most being prior pilots who served themselves and must have a minimum of 1,500 hours of fly time and 500 hours of instructing time. The second, and arguably most important, attribute is a devotion to shaping the next generation of flyers.

“What qualifies CSI’s isn't just the experience we’ve gathered over the many years of flying or the rigorous instructor training and development programs; it's the passion,” said Loftus. “Passion for flying, passion for teaching, passion for the Air Force.”

That passion helps prepare student pilots from Laughlin to fill future roles in squadrons and wings across the globe to help shape the Air Force we need.