Science and Technology News

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reserve experience called on to fine-tune new technology

by Dana Lineback
940th Wing

12/18/2012 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Master Sgt. Alan Carlson first glimpsed the Caterpillar heavy equipment simulator while on a temporary duty assignment to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. The shiny new trainer immediately piqued his curiosity.

The traditional reservist from the 940th Civil Engineer Squadron here was attending an advanced training course for equipment operators last summer when he encountered the prototype trainer, the only one of its kind in the Air Force.

Composed of five stations, the new simulator is designed to provide training on dozers, graders, excavators, dump trucks and front-end loaders.

"The graphics and controls are very good, and the seats shake to add realism of going over terrain," said Tech. Sgt. Alexes Abrams, Air Force Reserve Command Expeditionary Combat Support Training Certification Center instructor. "CAT will also be adding a three-degree tilt feature to these sims."

Carlson jumped at the opportunity to take the new trainer for a spin.

"The trainer had just been installed, and the instructors asked if we wanted to try it," said Carlson, a heavy equipment operator with 30 years of experience under his belt. "I wanted to test myself to see just how realistic this thing was."

To his surprise, the veteran operator failed every task.

"I knew it wasn't my skill level. I can operate all of those machines," Carlson said. "The trainer wasn't simulating real-world testing."
Carlson had hit the nail on the head. The testing process installed on the simulator at the factory needed tweaking. And Carlson had the real-world experience needed to accomplish those adjustments.

In November, he and two other reservists from the 940 CES, Senior Master Sgt. Scott Marler and Master Sgt. Robert Burt, returned to Dobbins ARB to assist instructors there with setting parameters on the new trainer that would mirror testing standards on the actual pieces of heavy equipment.

"This simulator is going to provide quality training for our operators. It not only allows us to increase the technical level of training incrementally, but it gives us the flexibility to train year round, even in inclement weather," Carlson said. "We'll be able to increase the number of people we can get trained, while at the same time cutting the cost of training, with substantial savings in fuel and maintenance costs."

"There are significant savings for the Air Force here," said Abrams. "We're not wasting fuel as students become familiar with the equipment. We could be using 150 gallons of fuel a week per piece of equipment."

Abrams said the simulator also provides a much safer environment, providing a way for operators to gain familiarization with the equipment's controls and master operation techniques before operating actual equipment.

"We spend less time going over basic controls because the students can learn quickly with the simulators - and it's fun."

Increased training capacity is particularly important to the 940th CES, according to Carlson, because of the squadron's upcoming conversion to a RED HORSE unit.
RED HORSE units deploy rapid-response civil engineering forces anywhere in the world. They are able to operate independently from other units in remote, high-threat, bare-base locations.

With their heavy equipment, these units can build and repair facilities and infrastructure when requirements exceed normal base civil engineer capabilities. They can also carve out airstrips to launch and recover aircraft in remote areas.

"Everyone in our squadron will become a heavy equipment operator. Their primary job may be medic or cook or whatever, but they'll have to learn how to operate dozers and graders, too, because that's what a RED HORSE unit does."

Carlson said this new simulator will help ensure his civil engineering squadron is the best trained in the Air Force.

"Second place isn't good enough for where we're going. As a RED HORSE unit, we want to lead the way."

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