Flight simulators prep pilots for the skies

New flight simulators are currently under construction at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Feb. 18, 2016. Simulators are designed to provide F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots with more training capabilities for future flight qualifications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cary Smith/Released)

New flight simulators are currently under construction at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Feb. 18, 2016. Simulators are designed to provide F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots with more training capabilities for future flight qualifications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cary Smith/Released)

Capt. Matthew Sabraw, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, operates an F-16 simulator, Dec. 12, 2013, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Pilots adhere to a strict training program tailored to Aviano’s mission of deter aggression, defend U.S. and NATO interests, and develop Aviano. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lotz/Released)

Capt. Matthew Sabraw, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, operates an F-16 simulator, Dec. 12, 2013, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Pilots adhere to a strict training program tailored to Aviano’s mission of deter aggression, defend U.S. and NATO interests, and develop Aviano. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lotz/Released)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Before F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots perform complicated aerial maneuvers, they practice developing their skills in a flight simulator.

A simulator resembles an aircraft's cockpit where a projector displays computer-generated images on a screen in front of the pilot.

"Simulators allow us to practice and become more proficient with the F-16 before we even take off," said 1st Lt. Trevor Kilroy, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. "Since day one, simulators have been integral in keeping us mission-ready." 

Kilroy, like many pilots, attended basic F-16 flight training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. There, pilots train constantly in simulators, some of which provide nearly 360-degree views and link several simulators together during group missions.

Pilots then begin flight training classes after mastering flying skills in a simulator. 

"Even though my flight training class had backseat-instructors for our first airborne flight, I believe every pilot was ready to fly solo because of the simulator training we had," said Kilroy.

When F-16 pilots arrive at Aviano, simulators help them become effective and efficient in a safe location.

"The simulator is the best place to get our mistakes out of the way in a consequence-free environment," said Kilroy. "There are a million lessons to learn from the simulators that all F-16 pilots take with them in the air."

According to Kilroy, some of the biggest lessons he's learned include emergency procedures which must be executed precisely and without hesitation. Other lessons involve combat tactics such as defensive maneuvers against ground attacks and intercepting an enemy aircraft.

"The ability to practice emergency procedures in the simulator is important because most emergencies would be too dangerous to duplicate in a jet," said Kilroy. "Also, some tactical maneuvers would put a jet at unnecessary risk, so we run through them over and over in the simulator to get every last detail down right."

This fine-tuning saves jet fuel, flight time and airspace, and affords pilots the opportunity to complete their flight currencies.

"Currencies are training qualifications a pilot needs in order to fly," said Kilroy. "Some currencies must be completed monthly while others require pilots to demonstrate mission-focused abilities before we get in the air."  

If pilots don't receive their monthly qualifications, they're 'grounded,' which often causes flight scheduling issues throughout the month. All these factors show how Aviano's flight simulators help the 31st FW remain a premier go-to fighter wing.

Current flight simulators are receiving electrical upgrades and software enhancements while new flight simulators are being constructed on base.

"The new missionized training centers are going to provide us with a lot more capability," said Kilroy. "They provide a 360-degree view and the ability to link up with more simulators, as well as a number of other capabilities that we currently don't have here."

From new training equipment to the skies, Aviano's pilots are maintaining and enhancing the expertise to deter aggression and defend U.S. and NATO interests.