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Scenario-based training prepares student pilots for real operations

A C-17 Globemaster III from the 517th Airlift Squadron prepares to drop heavy equipment while another Globemaster III from the 535th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, flies beside the aircraft over Malemute Drop Zone, Feb. 27, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

A new scenario-based training for C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft pilots helps prepare them for future operations. Pilots were originally trained to conduct particular maneuvers like high-speed, low-level flight, but now they are given the context of when and where they may use that maneuver. (U.S. Air Force file photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera/Released)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- An audience of C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft pilots sits attentively as the briefer in the front of the room emphasizes the key points of their mission. The projection screen behind him depicts known locations of hostile troops, associated air defense artillery and radar range envelopes.

The combined force commander's intent, he briefs, is for a small force of C-17s to fly a low-level ingress route into hostile airspace in order to resupply a small contingent of friendly troops who have been cut-off from its logistical support. There are two resupply points - the first is an abandoned airfield and the other is a drop zone that lies just beyond the range of hostile early warning systems. In order to successfully deconflict themselves with other aircraft operating into this area of operations, the pilots must takeoff, fly 120 nautical miles and be on target within one minute of their scheduled times.

The catch is that these resupply points aren't in overseas locations, but here in Oklahoma. The pilots receiving the briefing are not combat-tested veterans, but rather, students learning to fly the C-17 in newer and more challenging means.

"I wasn't sure what to think about this at first," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul Chase, an instructor pilot in the 58th Airlift squadron. "But I have to admit that I like it. It gives us the opportunity to prove more relevant and more effective instruction at no additional cost."

What the aforementioned scene represents is a paradigm shift to scenario-based training that took place in the 58th in February. Since the C-17 formal training unit was established at Altus AFB in 1996, the course syllabus has taught student pilots how to fly a myriad of profiles -- from instrument flight to high-speed low-level flight -- in the C-17 without necessarily explaining the reason why those profiles are flown. Scenario-based training adds what has been missing - namely, context.

Furthermore, it challenges students by forcing them to a functional understanding of the aircraft's mission computers as well as its capabilities in a semi-permissive threat environment.

"I think it's helpful in understanding the tactical aspect of our employment in a combat environment," said U.S. Air Force Capt Julie Luce, a student from the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

With the operational emphasis over the course of the last thirteen years on strategic operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the introduction of scenario based training to the C-17 FTU ensures not only students are receiving the highest-quality training possible, but also that they will arrive at their duty stations equipped with a skill set that will better prepare them to face challenges presented in future conflicts worldwide.