Northrop Grumman [NOC] successfully conducted a high-fidelity virtual aerial refueling demonstration, networking geographically-dispersed flight simulators and providing a realistic simulation of an air-to-air refueling process, according to a company statement.

During the Oct. 30 demonstration, Northrop Grumman connected a pilot in a C-17 transport flight simulator in Texas, an operator in a KC-135 tanker flight simulator in Florida and a boom operator in the Boom Operator Weapons System Trainer (BOWST) simulator in Oklahoma, with all three simulators operating simultaneously via the Mobility Air Forces (MAF) Distributed Mission Operations (DMO) test network. Northrop Grumman has been the prime contractor for the Air Force’s Distributed Mission Training Operations and Integration program since 1999, supporting Air Combat Command (ACC). The MAF DMO contract supporting Air Mobility command (AMC) began in 2011.

The Air Force’s legacy KC-135 (left). Photo: Air Force.

The Air Force AMC has pursued integrating the separate systems used today for training pilots, air crews and boom operators to simulate an actual in-flight refueling mission as a way to maintain readiness and reduce costly live flights.

“This feat reaffirms that we can master the simulation of ‘the last 50 feet’ of aerial refueling, which is a fundamental and unique capability of our Mobility Air Forces,” Air Force Col. Peter Eide, chief of the simulators division for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Agile Combat Support Directorate. “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.”

An active duty C-17 pilot and a KC-135 boom operator flew the missions, performing closure, contact, bank turns and disconnect to demonstrate real-world critical interaction among the three simulator platforms. The missions also included the use of standard visual references, radio communications and the tactical air navigation system.

To accomplish this interoperability, Northrop Grumman defined more than 70 “physics-based” virtual aerial refueling standards for simulators and implemented them on a distributed integration framework. The company then led interoperability analysis, network integration and simulator-upgrade efforts by the industry team of CAE [CAE], CymSTAR and L-3 Communications [LLL]. CAE is the prime contractor for the KC-135 Aircrew Training System in Tampa, Fla. Oklahoma-based CymSTAR designed and manufactured the BOWST. L-3 of Arlington, Texas, provided the C-17 Weapons System Trainer.