The Northrop Grumman-led industry team has successfully conducted a high-fidelity virtual aerial refuelling demonstration for the US Air Force (USAF) at an undisclosed location. The demonstration involved a C-17 transport flight simulator in Texas, a KC-135 tanker flight simulator in Florida and the boom operator weapons systems trainer (BOWST) simulator in Oklahoma, all operating simultaneously through the mobility air forces (MAF) distributed mission operations (DMO) test network. Flown by an active-duty C-17 pilot and a KC-135 boom operator, the missions included closure, contact, bank turns and disconnect for demonstration of real-world critical interaction between the three simulator platforms.
The missions also employed standard visual references, radio communications and the tactical air navigation system (TACAN). Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Agile Combat Support Directorate Simulators Division chief colonel Peter Eide said the feat confirms that the air force can master the simulation of ‘the last 50 feet’ of aerial refuelling, which represents a fundamental and unique capability of the Mobility Air Forces and the linchpin to joint power projection at intercontinental distances. "The Air Force can reap significant rewards from the expanded use of high fidelity simulator systems by the Mobility Air Forces, as it has from their use by combat assets," Eide said. Northrop Grumman MAF DMO Operations and Integration contract programme manager Michael Aldinger said: "This major step toward achieving the Air Mobility Command’s vision of persistent virtual air refueling could potentially reap significant cost savings across the command and other major commands." Northrop claims to have defined and implemented more than 70 "physics-based" virtual aerial refuelling standards for simulators on a distributed integration framework to accomplish unprecedented interoperability. Other team members included CAE, CymSTAR and L-3 Communications. The Air Force Air Mobility Command has sought integration of the existing, separate systems used for pilots, air crews and boom operators training for simulation of an actual in-flight refuelling mission as a way to maintain readiness and lower costly live flights. Northrop serves as the prime contractor for the Air Force’s Distributed Mission Training Operations and Integration programme since 1999, supporting Air Combat Command.