The U.S. Navy recently completed the installation of its new, state-of-the-art, high-fidelity air traffic control tower simulators — a far cry from large plywood tables with airfields painted on them and students walking around it “flying” airplanes glued to wooden dowels while receiving and responding to voice instructions from tower trainees.
The new Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower Simulation System (TSS) provides high-fidelity tower control training for ATC operators at Navy and Marine Corps Air Stations and Marine Corps Expeditionary Air Traffic Control Detachments. The last commercially-developed simulator was delivered to Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina in May 2017, completing the delivery and installation of 39 TSS devices at 36 installations.
The tower simulator devices, developed by UFA Inc., provide a new tool for Navy air facilities and replaces outdated technology at various Marine Corps sites and the aged Tower Operating Training System at the ATC “A” School in Pensacola, Florida.
When pursuing a new ATC simulation training device, the Navy leveraged work and lessons learned from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force to ensure system requirements were drafted in a manner that would reduce and/or eliminate training gaps.
“U.S. Navy air traffic controllers now have a state-of-the-art tower simulator which will allow them to conduct realistic training in control tower operations and procedures without having to rely on live traffic to do it,” said Cmdr. Jeff Dugard, Air Traffic Control Requirements Officer at Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Air Warfare Division.
The new system is a significant improvement over previous ATC devices as it provides the highest fidelity training environment to trainees as possible. The commercial trainer simulates weather; airfield lighting; a photo-realistic airport database for each site; emergency vehicles; aircraft emergencies; day or night conditions; wildlife; and, any combination of these. In addition, it integrates radar, voice communications, information displays and full voice recognition and response capabilities.
At each facility, senior qualified air traffic controllers design, develop and present training scenarios to trainees that progress from basic to intermediate to advanced levels involving all the operational positions in a typical control tower. Each scenario allows the instructor to evaluate trainee performance regarding proper phraseology, employment of proper control procedures, and the trainee’s ability to make sound decisions and provide appropriate and timely instructions that allow for the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air and ground traffic. Following each scenario, instructors can debrief trainees to identify areas where the trainee performed well and address areas for improvement.
The TSS has proven to be a vital tool for initial and proficiency training as Navy and Marine Corps facilities have realized an average reduction of 22 percent in total training time for ATC tower position qualifications.
Air Traffic Controlman 2nd Class Kristine Trader, stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, said training on the TSS prepared her for live operations in the control tower, particularly with respect to becoming fluent in proper phraseology and pilot-to-controller communications.
One of the greatest benefits Trader has noticed while utilizing the simulator, she said, is the ability to train to and become proficient in situations she doesn’t or won’t necessarily see when in the control tower at Patuxent River, such as cross traffic.
Dugard explained that when squadron controllers are assigned to active control towers, there is competition to get on position in order to train with live traffic. Often the controllers assigned to the facility have priority, he said, but that’s not a problem using the tower simulator as the simulated traffic levels can be specifically designed to the trainee’s ability.
At each air station and detachment, the TSS devices are located in close proximity to the control tower building, providing consistent and easy access to the trainer to deliver maximum benefit.
“They don’t have to leave the building to train nor do they have to send people to other facilities to receive this training which makes it convenient and more likely to be utilized,” Dugard said. “The trainer also saves a lot of money in that it does not rely on actual aircraft flying actual flight hours which everyone knows is expensive.”
Recently, Dugard had the opportunity to observe trainees using the new tower simulator. One of the Sailors explained to Dugard that he had received orders to an active naval air station and has had the ability to train for that particular control tower before arriving.
“When he arrives and is assigned to the control tower, he will already have a significant advantage because of the training he has been able to complete at his current station using the TSS,” Dugard said. “This is a real benefit to the Navy, to the receiving command, to the naval aircrew who will fly from that naval air station, and to the individual Sailor who will be executing those orders. This is a wise use of dollars in support of training and it will help to improve aviation safety and to retain air traffic controllers in the Navy.”
When reflecting on his visit, Dugard said he was very happy to see the investment and commitment the Navy has made to ensure Navy and Marine Corps air traffic controllers have easy access to a tower simulator that uses the latest in advanced technologies.
“The tower simulator provides them with a high-fidelity, realistic training experience that is clearly going to help them train better, train faster, train smarter, and qualify quicker. This will result in their ability to continue to provide the highest level of professional air traffic control services to our Navy and Marine Corps aviation teams flying from Navy and Marine Corps air stations and airfields at home and abroad.”