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National Guard aviators continue flight proficiencies in simulator

CAMP RIPLEY — Army pilots from across the Midwest train annually on simulators at Camp Ripley.

Aircraft simulations for the military as well as commercial aviation companies are mandatory to ensure proficiency while reducing cost.

“The requirements for flight starts with simulator time,” said Maj. Nathan Foster, Miller Army Airfield commander. “The experiences you learn in the simulator, both good and bad, save on time, material and money.”

Miller Army Airfield, on Camp Ripley, houses a regionally utilized UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter simulator. Pilots and instructors from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Ohio and Illinois fly in to use the simulator. Camp Ripley houses the regional simulator because of its available housing, training space and accessibility from surrounding areas.

“Having a regional simulator at Camp Ripley is ideal for the availability of other resources at a much lower cost than major installations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Daniel Jacobs, flight instructor for the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Simulator training saves thousands of dollars each year for aviation units. The requirement of helicopter pilots in the National Guard is no different than that of their active duty counterparts. Each pilot must complete six to 12 hours of simulator time, depending on their aircraft, before they move on to actual flight.

“Flight time takes up a lot of our budget, the use of simulators has cut costs significantly,” added Foster.

Jacobs added: “Especially before a deployment, pilots need to log in flight hours and training for mission. The use of the ‘sims’ reduces our cost by 1/10th and allows us to use that budget to better increase other areas of training efficiencies.”

Most UH-60 flights cost around $4,000 an hour. This cost includes fuel, maintenance, material, parts and the aircrew, all of which need to be in top condition for the required mission. A simulator cost is downwards of $275 an hour to run, greatly minimizing cost while increasing opportunities for various flight scenarios, including “what if” options.

For aviators of the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, “sim” time is very precious. Simulator training, even while on a real world mission, is necessary to stay sharp and practice for emergencies. Access to these simulators is limited and often requires extended trips to use them.

“Our crews are getting their time in now, as much as they can,” said Jacobs.

A Second UH-60 Blackhawk and a CH-47 Chinook simulator are expected to come to Camp Ripley within the next year.