Simulator helps Airmen defeat downrange threats

Nate Cairney
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***You are a loadmaster on a C-130 flight hurtling south over the Iraqi desert. You’re young, and this is your first deployment. You glance nervously again out the small oval window at the rear of the plane. Suddenly, a puff of smoke rises from the sandy ground, and with it, your blood pressure. It’s a surface-to-air missile, seconds away from impact. What do you do?
Hopefully, your training allows you to react with a cool head. And, according to Maj. John Coy, 86th Operations Support Squadron Wing Tactics flight commander, the new Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer helps teach Ramstein-based flight teams to do just that.

“We were getting crews out of the school house and sending them out the door (to the desert),” said Major Coy.  “We didn’t want the first time they saw a threat to be for real.”

The VTRAT system uses a 67-inch projection screen, headset and joystick to train flight crews bound for war zones. With the click of a computer keystroke, VTRAT trainers can change the screen view from day to night, from good weather to bad, and from nasty threats to very nasty.

With the VTRAT, Major Coy said that his group now has the capability to show crewmembers who have never been to combat some of the harsh realities of flying in a war zone – like anti-aircraft artillery and Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPAD) – before they are actually placed in harm’s way.  And, according to Major Coy, the training is working.

“Capt. Pete Larsen (a navigator formerly with the 37th Airlift Squadron), received VTRAT training, and was shot at with a MANPAD (in Iraq).  The way it looked was identical to the VTRAT video,” said Major Coy. “The way he postured himself was a direct one-to-one correlation between the trainer and the actual event.”

VTRAT simulators are very common at stateside bases, said Major Coy. But until Ramstein recently got one, the only European-based VTRAT was located in Mildenhall, England.

According to Major Coy, having the VTRAT at Ramstein is beneficial for many reasons. It saves time for local C-130 crews because they don’t have to fly to Mildenhall or the States for training, and also allows refresher training for crews swapping in and out of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Ramstein VTRAT also allows loadmasters to receive training, and it can be utilized to provide practice against possible threats that might arise during operations to Africa.

Getting the VTRAT to Ramstein wasn’t easy, said Major Coy. When he first arrived at Ramstein three years ago, none existed. So he set up an interim trainer using Powerpoint and a television, and worked doggedly to get the real deal. When it finally arrived, members of the 86th Wing Tactics team and four members of the 37th AS were trained as instructors. The first group of local trainees finished at the end of April.

In the end, Major Coy is confident that the VTRAT will help C-130 crews – especially those who have never before deployed to a war zone – respond better to situations that demand critical split-second decisions. And, as simulated missiles jump from an imaginary desert floor and zoom across the giant screen, most flight crews would likely agree that acquiring the VTRAT was a very good decision.