ALL NEW U.S. ARMY AVIATORS NOW GRADUATE from the Flight School XXI (FSXXI) curriculum at Fort Rucker, Ala. The modernized schoolhouse has nearly all its required simulators, TH-67 primary training helicopters, and go-to-war aircraft. Compared to past training schemes, FSXXI gives each student pilot 50-80 additional hours in operational utility, cargo, attack, and scout helicopters.
Hard comparisons with legacy training are still being formulated, but the new mix of virtual and real flying reportedly gives field units more capable aviators able to fly operational missions sooner. "All the feedback we’re receiving is positive," Col. Walter Golden, deputy commander and assistant commandant of the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker, said. "The feedback we’re getting from brigade commanders and standardization instructor pilots is that Flight School XXI pilots require less flight time to achieve Readiness Level 1 and pilot-in-command status."
Army aviator readiness levels are determined by field commanders. Legacy flight school graduates were typically classified Readiness Level 3 in the field and needed up to 40 hr additional training to attain Readiness Level 1 proficiency in base, mission, and special tasks specific to their new units. According to Golden, field units now classify most FSXXI graduates Readiness Level 2 or high-Readiness Level 3. "They really have to receive training in only some of their base and special mission tasks." FSXXI also graduates Army aviators with underwater escape "dunker" experience and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) training.
Earlier this year, Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, Army aviation director, told Congress that Flight School XXI would enhance Army readiness with aviation units more able to focus on collective training than individual skills. He also noted that the new program gave student aviators 16 more weeks of direct mentorship from the same instructor pilot (IP). About half of the IPs now at Fort Rucker are combat veterans. Lt. Col. Don Lindsay, commander of the 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment, responsible for Bell Helicopter OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and Boeing AH-64D Apache crew qualification, values the extended relationship between each experienced IP and his two students. "The experience is in many respects transferred to those individuals," he said. "It’s not all about the flight instruction. It’s about the Army, how to be an officer, a warrant officer, and a leader in the Army."
Fort Rucker concluded its legacy initial entry rotary-wing training program in late 2005. The program relied on piecemeal simulators and obsolete Kiowas and Hueys to prepare students for aircraft qualification courses in their go-to-war helicopters. The two-phase FSXXI supplements advanced training devices and standardized training helicopters with more time on operational aircraft. Fort Rucker admits about 1,200 flight students a year, and FSXXI in 2006 qualified 520 new pilots on the Sikorsky Aircraft UH-60A/L, 154 on the OH-58D, 144 on the Boeing CH-47D Chinook, and 122 on the AH-64D. A preliminary study released earlier this year by the Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences at Fort Rucker found the difference between graduates of interim FSXXI and legacy flight training statistically significant. Compared with graduates of the former program, new Chinook pilots from FSXXI attained desired readiness levels with 11.22 fewer flight hours in their assigned units. Interim FSXXI without the full complement of cost-saving simulators nevertheless cost the Army about $90,000 or 26 percent more per Chinook pilot than the old training. Total training time at Fort Rucker remains 12-15 months. The institute has an on-going study to quantify the payoff from the dynamic training program.
Flight School XXI has already incorporated changes based on Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Student pilots are now introduced to combat maneuvering flight in their go-to-war aircraft. "We recognized early on the training we provided to our students during initial entry rotary-wing often trained them for only the most conservative maneuvers in the aircraft," Golden explained. "In the environments they’re fighting in, they need to be familiar with a broader envelope." The school set safe maneuver limits and trained its trainers to keep students from overstressing the aircraft.
Legacy gunnery training was biased toward out-of-ground-effect hover to simulate fighting armor formations in Europe. However, experience in recent combat showed the need for running and diving fire as well as some off-axis gunnery practice. In addition, Fort Rucker’s gunnery ranges previously represented Cold War target arrays at extended ranges. FSXXI has introduced more urban-type terrain and targets.
Fort Rucker has set up mechanisms to bring real-world lessons into the FSXXI program. "We have a directorate of evaluation and standardization with experienced instructor pilots from each airframe for units in the field," said Golden. "They conduct periodic visits to units in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as [in the United States]. They actually fly missions with these units and bring back the tactics, techniques, and procedures they’re using."
Lessons learned are also incorporated into training and doctrine by an integration cell at Fort Rucker and distributed to deployed units monthly via a secure newsletter. The FSXXI faculty is also kept fresh. Golden said, "We’ve made a conscious effort here at the school to keep our instructor pilots here for only a three-year assignment, so we can continue to cycle them back out to the field… serving with deployed formations." The new school now has its first IP drawn from FSXXI graduates after a two-year field tour.
Computer Sciences Corp. was named FSXXI prime contractor in 2003 to install, operate, and manage the simulators central to the turnkey training scheme. CSC selected L3 Link, FlightSafety International, Rockwell Collins Simulation and Training, and Metters Industries to build the training devices. Virtual simulators (operational flight trainers and instrument flight trainers) for the Bell TH-57 and advanced aircraft virtual simulators for the UH-60A/L, CH-47D, AH-64D, and OH-58D reside in Warrior Hall and are owned and operated by CSC. Reconfigurable training devices that quickly can be converted to any of the go-to war-aircraft for collective training reside in the Army’s aviation warfighting simulation center.
New simulators are planned for the UH-60M and CH-47F with their Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), and requirements for a Bell ARH-70 simulator with CAAS have been identified. Golden said, "The CAAS cockpit will be fully integrated not just in the simulators but in our academic training and all the rest."
Except for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior advanced aircraft virtual simulators, all the FSXXI simulators have been tested and accredited by the Army’s Directorate of Simulation. "They were designed as a phased approach," said Golden. "We’re pretty much on the time we anticipated for the fielding of those simulators." Aviation training exercises have successfully networked the reconfigurable training devices with the aviation combined arms tactical trainers at Fort Rucker and other AVCATT suites at Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. One unit commander reported that in the first few weeks with his unit in Iraq, every mission flown had been reviewed in training previously during an exercise.
By September 2007, FSXXI students had logged more than 126,000 live flight hours. Some OH-58C navigation trainers remain in the fleet, but all Phase 1 primary and instrument training is conducted on TH-67A and A-Plus Creek trainers. Bell has so far delivered 212 TH-67s to Fort Rucker, including seven last year. The Army expects additional Creeks to make up for attrition and fill out the primary training fleet. Lear Siegler Services, Inc. provides contract flight instructors and maintenance support for the TH-67s.
Fort Rucker has enough UH-60A/Ls, CH-47Ds, OH-58Ds, and AH-64Ds for FSXXI Phase 2 training with Army instructor pilots. Golden explained, "In some cases, we buy an overcapacity in maintenance that allows us to train on a smaller number of aircraft than would perhaps be the requirement." The Aviation Center flew its last training missions with the AH-64A last November. Aircraft qualification courses for the analog Apache were transferred to the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS) in Marana, Ariz.
FSXXI has made other modest changes since startup. The Army, for example, asked CSC to set up additional classrooms and break areas in Warrior Hall. Changes have also been made in course content. "We have made subtle changes because we’re a learning organization," said Golden. "We continue to evaluate our programs and methodology on a continual basis."
FSXXI plans aimed for 60 percent simulated and 40 percent live flight training. "Our original model is still pretty close to the goal, although we adjust it to new simulators, tasks, and standards," said Golden. "There absolutely have been no disappointments with Flight School XXI. We don’t rest upon our laurels or pretend that FSXXI is the final product and we’re not going to change it… "We’re constantly tweaking and modifying the structure to keep it relevant for the warfight."