160th SOAR Begins Training in New Aquatics Facility

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (USASOC News Service, March 19, 2009) – The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s newest simulation training facility was officially open for business on March 9.

“The 160th now has a state-of-the-art Aquatic Training Facility that provides realistic training for our flight battalions and initial qualifications for every newly assigned Night Stalker,” said Lt. Col. Sal Herrera, commander of the Special Operations Aviation Training Company. “I am proud of everybody’s efforts to make this facility a reality.”

It took countless hours of hard work during an eight-year time period to design this one-of-a-kind facility. Underwater egress simulators and a functioning hoist from an airframe-replicated platform above the water afford the regiment unlimited training opportunities in its own backyard.

Training is conducted in exact replicas of the unit’s MH-47 Chinook, MH-60 Black Hawk and even A/MH-6 Little Bird helicopters. This includes everything from the cockpit design, to where doors are located and the amount of head room above the seats to the weapons systems, technology and unique external mechanical parts of the airframe like the refueling probes, skids, pods and hoist mechanisms.

CW5 Brian Fuller, a Little Bird pilot and the safety officer for the 160th’s training company, said the value of this training environment cannot be understated.

“For 14 years, I’ve been conducting this kind of training in something that resembles a 47 or 60,” he said. “This is great. You develop muscle memory so egress from your specific aircraft becomes second nature.”

Regiment is currently conducting three programs of instruction for their flight crews here, which includes a two-day basic dunker course, a one-day dunker refresher course and a HEEDS refresher course. Future training concepts include hoist operations, caving ladder and extended sea survival training.

The facility is overseen by a Night Stalker and the training is conducted by a nine-person contractor team with extensive aquatics, military and special operations experience.

“The biggest benefit of this training program is that we have the ability to coach and mentor our crews to train to standard,” said Bill Feeney, regiment’s simulation training facility manager.

Eric Parnell, ATF chief instructor, agrees. “We can spend as much time as we need to with each Soldier, even breaking the training down one-on-one if we need to.”

This individualized and unit-oriented training focus allows for a crawl-walk-run progression. All Soldiers first receive classroom and individual instruction in the pool before training in the simulated airframe. The first iteration of the simulator can be done in calm water and then instructors can add simulated environmental elements like waves, wind, rain, rotor wash and combat sounds on subsequent iterations to make the situation progressively more challenging and realistic.

“We are providing our aviators and crews the most realistic training in DoD,” said Feeney. ““It’s going to better prepare them to respond in a real-world situation.”

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