• Army Reserve Launches Air Traffic Control Simulator System

    William G. Balliew

    The U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) has established the first fully accredited unit-level Air Traffic Control (ATC) simulator system in the Army at Fort Rucker, AL, fulfilling a vision for a simulation training strategy that closely replicates real-life air traffic control situations.

    An ATC NCO supervises USAR air traffic controllers on the Army’s first fully accredited unit-level ATC simulator system. (Photo by Carey James, USAR Command G-3/5/7 Aviation Contractor.)

    The system is just what planners from the USAR Command (USARC) Aviation Directorate had in mind when the 2nd Airfield Operations Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment (2-58) was activated in 2007 to train air traffic controllers. The planners foresaw the unit developing a realistic simulation training strategy, and an accredited ATC simulator system was critical to that strategy.

    “Simulation is the future of aviation training. This is a state-of-the-art device that leverages today’s technology to train tomorrow’s air traffic controllers. It is a cost-saving initiative that maximizes standardization while providing a kaleidoscope of training opportunities via real-world scenarios,” said COL Mike Schellinger, Director of USARC Aviation.

    Army Training Circular 3-04.81, Air Traffic Control Facility Operations, Training, Maintenance and Standardization, encourages unit leaders to incorporate simulation in their training programs to maximize proficiency and development.

    The scenarios used during the simulations test air traffic controllers under high-traffic-density conditions from multiple types of aircraft, thereby eliminating the cost of replicating similar conditions with actual aircraft flight.

    An individual requires 80 position hours to get an initial air traffic control specialist tactical rating as a controller, with an additional 40 hours required every six months to remain at the top readiness level. Army ATC directives and regulations allow for half of those hours to be accomplished using accredited simulations. For fixed-base operations, simulation may be used during all training phases except for position qualifications, ratings, and annual skill evaluations.

    The accreditation was the result of an exhaustive process that lasted nearly five years. The process began in 2006 when the staffs at USARC and the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, decided to pursue an ATC simulation strategy for Soldiers in the career field. The staffs incorporated lessons learned from the U.S. Army Air Traffic Control School, the U.S. Air Force, and the National Guard.

    The decision was made based in part on assessments such as the one from March 17, 2005, in which the Army Air Traffic Service in Iraq judged ATC personnel proficient in setting up and maintaining ATC systems. The study said, “There is a considerable learning curve encountered when you are used to controlling rotary-wing aircraft and then find yourself responsible for providing a safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of traffic to a multitude of aerial platforms. They [air traffic controllers] are trained to complete their wartime mission as the Army sees it; controlling rotary-wing aircraft at a division airfield/assembly area. However, they are not trained to control scenarios they encounter in theater. The Army has an urgent need for some type of simulation to sustain its controllers’ proficiency and readiness level.” 

    USAR air traffic controllers work through a training scenario on the Army’s first fully accredited unit-level ATC simulator system. (Photo by Carey James, USAR Command G-3/5/7 Aviation Contractor.)

    The U.S. Army Aviation Center’s Directorate of Simulation (DOS) spearheaded a scenario that would adequately test air traffic controllers on accomplishing those tasks designated as critical. The USARC Aviation Directorate created the initial design and refined it over time while consulting with other experts in the field.

    Once the scenario was deemed ready, DOS gathered a large group of ATC experts to work through the scenario and grade the system on its testing proficiency on critical tasks. The group included qualified active Army controllers, subject-matter experts, ATC instructors, and U.S. Army Forces Command Aviation Resource Management Survey inspectors with varying levels of experience to provide the perspectives of a representative cross-section of the field. The grades from the group met the requirements for accreditation of the system.

    The rigors and legitimacy of the accreditation process give real evidence of the capabilities of this system to train Soldiers.

    Because of the nature of computer simulations, the 2-58 can now train personnel using the most up-to-date lessons learned and conditions from areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Given enough lead time, the unit can design a scenario tailored for the specific location where a unit will deploy.

    The USAR has realized that the simulator can support more than just Army Reserve Soldiers. The system has been placed in the DOS Merryman Building on Fort Rucker, where it will be made available to both active and reserve-component ATC Soldiers for scheduled use.

    “We are very excited about the possibilities of this system. Not only will it get both Reserve and active Army air traffic controllers better prepared for the conditions they will face in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it will also prepare them at less cost with no loss in capability,” said Schellinger.


    • WILLIAM G. BALLIEW is the USARC Air Traffic and Airspace Officer, G-3/5/7 Aviation. He is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certified Air Traffic Controller Specialist and Control Tower Operator. Balliew is a former U.S. Army Air Traffic Controller, Department of the Army Representative to the FAA Headquarters and Army Representative to the FAA ATP-200 Special Operations Branch.

Share Post