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My daughter, Barb, moved back to Western Pennsylvania a few months ago. I assisted her in exploring this option last year. We stayed with her best friend, Cindy, who lives in Murrysville, just East of Pittsburgh. Cindy is married to a Lt Col in the Air National Guard at Pittsburgh International Airport, the 171st AIR REFUELING WING. During our visit, Chuck Perrott told me about the unit getting a new simulator for training pilots and keeping them current in the KC 135.

The 171st Air Refueling Wing has 16 KC 135 tankers and flies missions all over the world. They have 80 pilots attached to the Wing, and fly an impressive 10,000 hours per year in total with those airplanes. Chuck said that he could arrange some simulator flight time for me on my next visit to Pittsburgh.

My next visit was in May, 2018, and Chuck did arrange some time for me to "fly" the simulator on May 19. I asked if I could bring a friend. He said, "You are going to need a co-pilot, so sure, bring another pilot. My friend, Marty, flew from San Diego to Pittsburgh on May 18. On the 19th we checked into the ANG base about 10:15 and Chuck was waiting for us at the gate. He took us to the Operations Office.

flying the kc135 simulator col perrott at sim entrance

After signing in, we had a sit down briefing about what to expect in the sim. It turns out that Cindy's brother, Bill, is a retired ANG pilot and now works at the base as an instructor in the simulator. It is possible to simulate any kind of weather and any flight emergency in this full motion simulator. I told Bill that neither of us are rated in an aircraft of this size, so please just basic flights will be fine. We moved into the simulator building and into the sim.

After discussing operation of the throttles, landing gear, flaps, trim, and systems, it was time for a take off on runway 28 L at PIT. We had already talked about rotate speed and climb out. Take off was routine and we climbed to about 9000 feet to do a series of turns, climbs and descents to get the feel of the plane.

Built by CAE, this is a full motion exact replica of the real airplane. Every lever, knob, gauge, switch, instrument, light, controls and displays are actual parts from KC 135 aircraft. You even hear the engine sounds and feel the landing gear and flaps. Even when you look outside the visuals are very realistic.

flying the kc135 simulator inside the sim

After a short flight Bill asked if I would like to do a landing at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. With a few clicks on his computer behind us he had us set up on a long final for Nellis from the south west. Gear down, flaps set, final approach speed is 140 K. Trim is your friend for keeping the approach speed where you want it. On short final I was not pleased with my approach and announced that I was going to do a go around, added power and pitched up. Bill put a hold on everything and reset the approach. My second approach was much more stable, and I did a touch and go. After climb out it was time to turn the controls over to Marty in the right seat.

maintenance inside the kc135

Bill asked "Where do you want to go?" Marty responded "Diego Garcia." That is a military base on an island in the Indian Ocean. With a few more clicks of the computer we were set up on a long final. Marty made a good landing to a full stop. Bill backed us up, and Marty did the take off. Next Bill set us up for a landing at Kandahar, Afghanistan. I did the landing to a full stop. Bill backed us up again, and explained a special take off procedure used there: rotate climb 500 feet, level off and fly straight ahead to the edge of the desert. It was easy to see the desert only a few miles from the airport.

At the desert line, I added full power, pitched the nose up 20 degrees and climbed at 13,000 feet per minute to 28,000 feet and leveled off and set power to 380 knots. Then Bill said to look to my left. Another KC 135 was pass passing 500 feet above and about 1/4 mile to the left. Bill wanted me to fly formation withe that other KC 135. Then my next job was to get in trail into the refueling position. If you have never flown that close to another plane you will find this to be uncomfortable. I don't think I was ever able to get into a position where refueling would have been possible.

flying the kc135 simulator outside the sim

After formation flying we were running out of time as the simulator is scheduled for training almost all day, most days. Bill asked what I would like to do. I said that I wanted to do a landing on runway 28 L at Pittsburgh. He set us up for a long final, and by this time I was a bit more comfortable and made a good landing to a full stop.

After a little post flight session with lots of questions and answers, we got to go out on the ramp and climb up into an actual KC 135. Some maintenance was going on and we were able to visit with some of the ANG members that take care of these airplanes.

Even if you have a pilots license and multi engine, instrument ratings when you join this unit, you will take about a year to be fully qualified to fly the KC 135. All of the pilots get recurrent training in simulated emergencies every year. They have an excellent safety record.

flying the kc135 simulator

It was a great experience. I wish I had one of these simulators in my garage, but I would need a much larger garage!

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