ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – The 28th Operations Support Squadron B-1 simulator is a state-of-the-art facility, which helps train air crew members for combat by creating real life scenarios that help keep their skills at a high level.
The simulator is far more economical to operate than a B-1 bomber. Using a WST saves the Air Force $25,000 an hour to operate and allows aircrew members to train at a lower cost.
The simulator also helps aircrew train for scenarios that can only be accomplished in a simulated environment.
“Primarily, we are here to provide aircrew flight simulation training,” said Quinten Miklos, the contracting officer representative for the B-1 training systems program. “The weapon systems trainer is particularly useful for those activities that would be dangerous to conduct in the aircraft emergency procedures, such as poor weather approaches and landings, or for those activities where multiple repetitions are desirable to develop proficiency. It is also a very effective tool for mission rehearsal where there is a specific profile that has been planned. This allows the aircrew to practice a mission before having to execute it for real.”
There are advantages when using a simulator over an aircraft. Miklos explained some of the details about the WST and how it helps aircrew members train for real-world situations.
“The WST can [simulate a] crash with no loss of life and perhaps a valuable lesson learned,” Miklos illustrated. “Using the WST, the aircrew are free to push the limits of tactical maneuvering and even experiment with new tactics. It is a learning lab that is conducted in a non-lethal environment.”
Practicing for combat situations can be accomplished in more than one way. If an aircrew member wanted to train over a hostile area overseas they would have to fly to that region and risking personal safety and the aircraft.
“We can simulate any area in the world,” said William Berkeley, the B-1 simulator site manager. “Going to a war zone in a plane can be pretty dangerous, and the simulator keeps them safe at home and still get the training they need.”
Training can be expensive whether it’s simulated or done in a real aircraft. But, the difference in cost is significant and helps save money so aircrew members can get more flight time.
“The dollars required to maintain and operate the weapon systems trainers and that comes to something in the neighborhood of $500 dollars per WST hour,” Miklos said. “Regardless of how you calculate the cost, it still is only a fraction of what it cost to fly a B-1.”
A B-1 costs approximately $300 million and more to maintain, fuel and fly. A WST costs roughly $17 million, which makes the simulator less expensive to build and operate than a B-1. This shows the public that the Air Force is cognizant of the resources they are given.
“The use of simulators across the Air Force and Department of Defense, not just the B-1 [simulator], is a responsible stewardship of resources,” Miklos said.
Having equipment as complex as the B-1 simulator can come with challenges. Mechanics have to troubleshoot issues so aircrew members can get the training they need to be ready at a moment’s notice. The WST technicians are responsible to keep it up and running and have been doing so since its creation.
Hydraulic arms are used to control the movement of a B-1 simulator at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Aug. 21, 2018. The WSTs sits on hydraulic legs, which allow them to move forwards and backwards during training to make it as realistic as possible so aircrew members can more effective in real-world situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Karol)
“I’ve been here for 31 years working on this simulator,” Berkeley said. “We have been updating the system and it’s changed a lot over the years. We are working to keep it current and up to date so the crew members can get the best training possible.”
Working with equipment as sophisticated as a simulator can be challenging. For individuals like Miklos who enjoy the difficulty of the complicated facility, it can be rewarding.
“I enjoy being a part of the B-1 training system team,” Miklos stated. “We support the warfighter in a very direct way. It is very satisfying to know that what we do allows the aircrew be better prepared for whatever they may face in a training or combat environment."