Navy takes PC game seriously

Jet jockey wannabes play Microsoft Corp.'s Flight Simulator game to capture

a sense of what it's like to pilot a thundering jet. The game's realism

makes it not only exciting to play but also an effective training tool.

To that end, the Navy last month started to issue a customized version

of the software to all student pilots and undergraduates enrolled in Naval

Reserve Officer Training Courses at 65 colleges.

The office of the Chief of Naval Education and Training has also installed

Flight Simulator on high-powered Pentium III PC workstations with 29-inch

screens at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, and plans to

install it at two other bases in Florida.

The decision to include the game in the training curriculum stems from

the results of a research project conducted by the Navy last summer. Scott

Dunlap, head of the Assessment Project Office for the Chief of Naval Education

and Training in Pensacola, Fla., said the study found that students who

use microsimulation products during early flight training tend to have higher

scores than students who do not use the software.

Dunlap credits Lt. j.g. Herb Lacey, now a naval aviator, with jump-starting

the Navy's use of Flight Simulator in its training environment. While a

student pilot, Lacey used the customization functions of the commercial

software to create the control panel of the standard Navy trainer, the T34C,

and to model the landscapes around Navy training fields in Florida and Texas.

"We basically took Lacey's aircraft panels and scenery, dropped that into

our microsimulation project and developed a learning methodology around

them," Dunlap said.

Flight Simulator allows students to learn and practice basic procedures,

such as cockpit control manipulation and navigation, before they get into

an airplane.

As expected, Flight Simulator brings with it a lower cost when compared

with the multimillion-dollar, sophisticated flight simulation systems the

military services have bought in the past.

Bill Lewandowski, manager of the training systems division of Flight

Safety International — the world's largest trainer of professional pilots — said his company uses Flight Simulator extensively to enhance the ground

school experience. But, Lewandowski emphasized, microsimulation products

cannot replace full-motion, multimillion dollar flight simulators used by

airlines and the military. "You cannot replicate that in a PC environment,"

Lewandowski said.

The Navy's Dunlap agreed. "We see this fitting in between what you learn

in the classroom and the higher forms of simulation," he said. Even with

this caveat, Dunlap said the Navy wants to incorporate microsim training

into the next-generation Joint Primary Aircraft Training System, a multibillion-dollar

training program based on a Raytheon Co. advanced single-engine trainer.


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