Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass
Virtual Bullet, Virtual Gun

Russ Pitts | 13 Mar 2007 12:00
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Aside from being crude, large and fairly basic, military-grade simulators in the late 20th century were also exorbitantly expensive. Which, considering the military's annual budget, may not seem like much of a problem, but when the cost of running a simulator exceeds the cost of burning a jet engine for a few hours, why not just go up? Simulators, therefore, have most often been relegated to simulating high-risk tasks (such as space flight) or for when hands-on training is neither possible nor desirable. Like for practicing nuclear bombing runs over Moscow.

Besides, there are aspects of flight that cannot be accurately simulated, such as g-force, the way sunlight glares on the canopy or the "feel" of the stick as pockets of ionized air pass over the control planes. The ability to learn and adapt to these and other various, minute sensory inputs is what makes or breaks a fighter pilot, and no computer in the world can completely simulate the real thing. Yet. But there is one area of military training that not only benefits from computer-enhanced simulation, it also demands it.

Remote Control
"The UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle) Training Center's simulators are said to be so realistic, it would be difficult to distinguish, without previous knowledge, between them and the actual ground stations," writes Patrick Chisholm in a November 2005 article appearing in Military Training Technology.

UAVs are basically miniature airplanes controlled via remote control, from a computer station, and until fairly recently required, as with actual airplanes, a working UAV to train pilots. But with UAVs in increased demand in Afghanistan, Iraq (and everywhere else the Army is currently operating), the machines themselves have been too busy conducting operations to sit around idle while rookie joystick jockeys learn the controls. Enter: the UAV Training Center at Fort Huachuca, AZ.

The simulators at Fort Huachuca, are a mix of proprietary systems and off-the-shelf PCs ("ruggedized Intel PCs running Microsoft Windows 2000 using game level Nvidia

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