The RAF's new Hawk simulator will save money and allow more training

Stewart Penney/RAF VALLEY


When the Hawk Synthetic Training (HST) facility opened on 11 February it was no ordinary debut - it was a milestone in the UK Government's use of its private finance initiative (PFI) to fund capital investment in the armed forces. It was also the first time the scheme had been used to provide equipment for the Royal Air Force.

The initiative will also save money and allow students more training time because, under a PFI contract, a company provides a service rather than equipment, charging a utilisation fee to cover its costs. It allows the government to reduce capital expenditure and removes the asset from the balance sheet.

The company - in this case, BAE Systems - benefits as it receives a long-term contract that will bring a steady, guaranteed income.

The RAF gains by getting a modern facility with far greater training potential than the simulators it replaces. Before the HST, RAF simulators for the BAE Hawk T1 were limited to an analogue instrument procedures trainer that had no visual system and had been in service since the 1970s. BAE's HST includes two dome-enclosed Hawk weapons and tactics simulators (HWTS) and the Hawk Instrument Flight Simulator (HIFS), with limited visuals. All simulators are built by BAE subsidiary Reflectone, with subsystems from SEOS, Silicon Graphics and Equipe.

Use of the PFI accelerated the time between contract signing and the start of operations, says Ian Dex, the Defence Procurement Agency's (DPA) flight simulation and synthetic training integrated project team leader. The contract was signed in December 1997. The HIFS has been running since last July, while the domes became operational in October and December.

Public sector savings

Had the public sector created the HST, it would have cost around £30 million ($50 million), says Dex. If the RAF uses 100% of the training it expects to need, it will spend £23 million. This will fall to £20 million if it uses only 80% of the minimum guaranteed. If the RAF had funded the HST, it would be left with an under-used, expensive facility.

The two HWTS have 340° visuals and can be networked with other training devices, enabling their aircraft to be projected on to the dome. Alternatively, additional entities can be generated and, if necessary, flown by the instructor from the control station. The display is high definition over most of the dome, which was chosen in preference to tracking the pilots' eyes and projecting high-definition graphics only within the field of regard.

Although the cockpit in the dome is not on a moving platform, physical cues such as seat vibrations and inflation/deflation of the g-suit bladders are fed to the pilot through the seat to add realism. Lack of a motion system does not appear to limit the system's realism.

All the airfields used regularly by the Hawk students are represented in the visual database, although in a generic form. Use of the HWTS includes low- flying practice and visits to the weapons ranges, using bombs, guns and air-to-air missiles.

The change means that the first students to be trained to the new syllabus will spend 60h in the simulator, compared with 27h previously. Simulator slots last 1h, with a 30min briefing and similar-length debrief. While simulator time is increased, there are no plans to reduce hours in the Hawk aircraft. In recent years, says facility manager Monty Christy, trainee pilots have received about 120h on the Hawk, or 20% more than budgeted. The RAF has about 6,000h a year booked in the HST. It is predicted that the HST will reduce the extra hours flown, creating a saving for the RAF and preserving the elderly trainers' remaining fatigue life. Simulator hours cost about 20% of a flying hour, says Christy. The additional training time will produce better pilots, is less likely to be chopped during the operational conversion stage and saves the RAF money, he says.

Instructors are experienced ex-RAF or Royal Navy qualified flying instructors, qualified weapons instructors, or both. Training accuracy and fidelity is ensured by regular meetings between HST and RAF standards personnel, says Christy. Emphasis is placed on not teaching bad habits in the simulator. Students fly in full flying kit, including helmet and mask, and procedures are followed for opening the canopy and making the ejection seat safe for flight.

Perhaps the best recommendation for the HST is its use by qualified pilots for continuation training. This includes 100 Sqn, the Red Arrows aerobatics team, and the Royal Navy's Hawk units.

Source: Flight International