The US Forest Service (USFS) is to expand what it claims is the first simulation system catering to the operational challenges of aerial firefighting.
The Aerial Firefighting Simulator has been operational since April 2005 at the USFS’s Wildland Firefighting Training and Conference Center at the McClellan Park airport/industrial complex near Sacramento, California.
Its purpose is to hone the tactics and skills required of pilots and air tactical group supervisors to attack huge wildfires, but not to fly a specific aircraft, says the USFS Pacific Southwest Region’s Fire and Aviation Management Group regional aviation safety manager Dennis Brown. “We assume that the people who will train here already know how to fly,” he says.
The simulator project was launched at about the same time that a US government blue ribbon panel, reviewing the problem-plagued national firefighting air tanker programme, recommended that flightcrews be better trained to execute firefighting missions.
“While a simulator was never mandated by the panel, we knew we needed to do something, because no [ground-based] aerial firefighting training system existed at the time,” says Brown.
The $300,000 contract for the programme’s first phase was awarded in 2004 to Los Angeles-based ATC Flight Simulator, which provides the system’s hardware. The software was subcontracted to Silicon Studios of Laguna Hills, California.
The first-phase contract included three generic, fixed-wing cockpit mock-ups for flightcrew training, and four additional instructor stations. The second-phase contract, also valued at $300,000, has been awarded to the same vendors for system implementation in July 2006. This will see ATC add two generic helicopter cockpits, while Silicon Studios will supply an enhanced software package.
Computer-generated instrument displays can simulate those of the Aero Commander 500, Beech King Air 90, Lockheed Martin C-130, P-3 Orion and Grumman S2T. The instrument displays can also display weight information, depending upon the selected quantity of water or fire retardant being carried.
The software used for the simulator was originally developed by Silicon Studios as a PC-based video game, known as “Xtreme Air Racing,” based on the Reno Air Races. Silicon chief executive Patrick Hunt says the project represents the first time that technology used in electronic gaming has been applied to aircrew training.
The visuals generate a mix of ground equipment typically deployed in firefighting; water and retardant ground marks and the effects of wind on fire retardant dispersal; and ember spread. “Wind affects the burn rate, making the fire a participant in the training exercise,” says Hunt.
The second-phase software will be more dynamic. “For example, right now, the bulldozers used to clear areas during firefighting do not move, but under Phase II, they will,” says Hunt. “Also, the helicopter pilot will be able to simulate flight over a lake where the bucket will be filled with water,” he adds.
PAUL SEIDENMAN / SAN FRANCISCO
Source: Flight International