FEATURE: CAE and Hawker Beechcraft develop integrated light support aircraft training system
31 Aug 11
For many nations, the prospect of owning a small propeller-driven tactical aircraft capable of light strike and other combat missions in addition to a training role is an attractive one. Budget austerity, the immense capital outlay associated with upgrading air power and the dire need to reduce the logistics footprint of platforms means that multi-role light aircraft are becoming increasingly popular.
Under the Light Air Support (LAS) programme, the US Air Force is seeking to procure 20 such aircraft for the fledgling Afghan Air Force. Competing for a production programme in this initial indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract that could far exceed these modest numbers over time are Embraer with the Super Tucano and Hawker Beechcraft with the Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) variant of its AT-6 airframe. According to Hawker Beechcraft sources, a total of some 27 nations have already been identified as potentially benefiting from such a solution.
The Afghan requirement encompasses an integrated training solution rather than just a trainer aircraft. With this in mind, Hawker Beechcraft partnered with CAE in 2010, with the leading training and simulation specialist taking responsibility for the ground-based training system (GBTS), should the AT-6 win the contract.
With the US intent being to leverage Department of Defense historical investment in people, platforms and programmes, the aim from the outset has been “to integrate, not invent,” according to Derek Hess, Director of Light Attack Programs for Hawker Beechcraft. CAE has thus based its GBTS solution on existing architectures and components, investing “several million dollars” of company capital in the programme.
At the beginning of the system pipeline is the desktop trainer (DTT), which provides basic cockpit familiarisation and a capacity to learn entry level training tasks in a PC-based environment, with a single channel liquid crystal display providing ‘out-the-window’ visuals. The DTT runs on the same high-fidelity simulation software as the higher level training devices, allowing for seamless transfer between devices and levels of training.
The Unit Training Device (UTD) offers the student a full fidelity AT-6 cockpit in which elementary flight manoeuvres and emergency procedures can be taught and practiced. With up to three displays providing external visuals, a high fidelity replication of the ejection seat and actively-loaded flight controls, the UTD comes complete with a remote instructor operator station from which the instructor can monitor student progress and inject emergencies when deemed necessary.
Using the same cockpit as the UTD but with a more immersive visual environment for the student, the Full Mission Simulator (FMS) allows for training in more advanced and aggressive flight manoeuvring, formation flying and weapons engagement. Provision has been made for either a large field-of-view dome display or a complete 360 degree dome to facilitate skills installtion.
Underpinning the training devices is a complete suite of computer-based training and courseware, using commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software, integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) that wraps the entire training experience for students in an efficient and easily assimilated programme. The system is flexible enough to cater for classroom-based instructor-led training or distance learning at remote locations.
“The solution on offer is not just about a capable airplane with characteristics including deep magazine potential and standoff capability, it’s about all-round capability in training and operational tasks – a true system of systems,” said Hess.
Unveiling the AT-6 UTD at the Paris Air Show in June, CAE and Hawker Beechcraft demonstrated its utility, using a CAE-developed Common Data Base module for Yemen. Judging by the variety of uniforms in the traffic through the demonstration suite, the two companies have reason to have become more bullish about the potential for the system in recent months. The cost-effective acquisition of capability, both in training and operational scenarios, will continue to drive many nations – including some of the world’s largest air powers – towards such solutions over the coming decade.