Thales and Royal Air Force Air Transport Synthetic Training Systems

DS is once again grateful to Howard Wheeldon FRAeS for granting permission to reproduce one of his informative articles. This one is based on Howard’s recent visit to RAF Brize Norton and covers the sophisticated government funded contractor operated Synthetic system in place for the training of RAF air and ground crew on the A330 Voyager and A400M Atlas. We are pleased to publish it because it is one of those rare unqualified UK Defence ‘Good News’ stories but was not covered in our earlier commentary. Who knows, there could be more.

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS – Thales and Royal Air Force Air Transport Synthetic Training Systems


A recent invitation to visit Thales activities in training and avionics support at RAF Brize Norton at the purpose built Thales Academy for training pilots, engineers, maintainers and cabin staff on the Royal Air Force (RAF) fleet of Airbus A330 Multi-Role-Tanker Transport (Voyager) aircraft together with a separate visit to the nearby A400M (Atlas) Training Services Centre was an eye opener in respect of how the quality and operation of synthetic based simulation training has advanced over a very short period of time. A pioneer in simulation technology, Thales, has been developing and growing synthetic based training technology applications for a large number of armed forces around the world including the RAF and United States Air Force (USAF) for close on fifty years.

In recent years Thales developed a complete training solution under the title of “Directed Fidelity” for training services that the company provides in the United Kingdom (UK), France and various other military locations around the world. In addition to training services, Thales also supports synthetic based and other training for air, ground, and naval forces of various North Atalantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member states including the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Norway and non-NATO countries such as Australia.

It has taken time for some sections of the military to understand and embrace the extent to which synthetic based classroom and simulator training can provide a wider exposure to mission capability requirements. What may be described as a more constructive basis for training implementation that, in terms of pilot and mission systems, is interwoven with actual flying and at the same time saving considerable costs. It is only in the past ten to fifteen years that a better understanding has emerged in respect of using synthetic based training for engineering, maintenance, crew, load master and other tasks that are vital in terms of overall mission support, but the successful application is there for all to see at both the Thales Academy and A400M Training Centre.

A330 Voyager

Air Tanker Services carries overall responsibility for all training carried out on the RAF Voyager (multi-role tanker transport). Babcock International is responsible for providing all MT/GSE (maintenance training/ground support training) and also for providing all ‘operational’ software training. TTSL is the Theoretical Training Service Integrator responsible for bringing everything together for pilots, cabin crew, operations staff, engineers and other activities. Thales and indeed, Air Tanker, are justifiably proud of the ability to provide some of the most advanced synthetic based training applications in the most realistic military environments. The company offers a comprehensive range of solutions that include Computer Based Training (CBT) for crew and maintenance training including use of basic training devices through to Full Mission based training solutions and simulators for when, for instance, an aircraft is deployed operationally in the air or on the ground that requires support and maintenance. All the various training applications and solutions are fully compatible with third party networked synthetic training environments required by customers such as the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

RAF Brize Norton acts as the home base for an extremely large number of squadrons including No’s 10 and 101 Voyager squadrons together with No 70 (LXX) squadron which is tasked with Airbus A400M Atlas operation. The RAF Voyager is used in the air-to-air (AAR) tanker refuelling, transport (AT) and VIP role and servicing support is offered by AirTanker Services – a partnership between Airbus, Babcock International, Cobham, Rolls-Royce and Thales – that provides state-of-the-art military avionics, mission systems including defensive aid suites (DAS) for the nine aircraft acquired. In addition, as a subcontractor to Air Tanker, Thales also provides ground mission training systems, including a full-flight simulator together with other training devices and services for aircrew and other trades.

During the 27 year duration of the Voyager contract period Thales will provide Air Tanker with an extensive range of services during the through life support phase including spares, obsolescence management and repairs together with management and delivery of integrated training services. The latter includes training for air and ground crews involved in Voyager transport activities and for A330 aircrew type conversion from a range of other aircraft including private sector airlines together with twin engine operations (ETOPS) and the essential air-to-air refuelling training.

My visit to Thales facilities at RAF Brize Norton last month concentrated on the company’s work as the TTSL Training Service Integrator (Theoretical Training) for Voyager and the various pilot, engineer, maintainer and other aspects of synthetic based training conducted in the modern purpose built Voyager academy. The Voyager Academy is a state-of-the-art building with superb facilities both from a technical, physical and capability viewpoint. However, as is true in most aspects of military training, it is the work of the qualified trainers combined with the very high number of individual courses undertaken that set the Thales Academy apart from most other synthetic based military training establishment that I have seen in the UK so far.

The Academy conducts pilot, cabin crew, engineering and maintenance staff training of both military and civilian staff together with other operational staff training tasking requirements for Voyager on behalf of AirTanker Services. The Academy has the ability to provide 156 different courses – 74 for Pilots, 10 for Cabin Crew, 49 for Engineers, 15 for Operations and 8 for other. Since the Academy opened in November 2012 the number of hours delivered by the full mission simulator was at the time of my visit given as 6,783.

Since the Academy opened my understanding is that 112 pilots have been trained (80 with Type Rating + 32 CCQ) together with 75 military students who have been put through the pilot AAR course, 34 have gone through the Mission System Operators AAR course and no fewer than 381 Cabin Crew have also been trained, of which 177 are military and 81 civil. The numbers are constantly changing of course so the above is only meant as a guide. So far, approximately 100 RAF Engineers have been trained to required ‘License’ standard and 403 engineers and other trades trained in the Academy so far as a whole at the time of my visit. Annual usage of delivered training exceeds the annual threshold. To date the number of classroom hours provided totals 38,744 and the number of hours delivered on the full mission simulator 6,783.

A400M Atlas

Separately, on the day of my visit to RAF Brize Norton, I was able to spend some time in the purpose built A400M (Atlas) Training Services Centre which is equally state-of-the art in terms of what this fantastic capability provides. An asset and service based provision, not only does the A400M Training Centre contain two full mission simulators but it has a complete A400M aircraft rear sections for load master and other engineering and maintainer training. There are nine service levels and the Cockpit Maintenance Operations Simulator (CMOS) is based on ‘Simfinity’ virtual maintenance trainer (VMT) technology which features virtual displays of the A400M aircraft, cockpit and maintenance accessible areas designed to provide familiarisation, troubleshooting and procedural training for maintainers.

The Airbus A400M is a European partnership aircraft built under and OCCAR DPP Contract. The RAF will eventually take delivery of 22 A400M with training being conducted under an MOD Training Services Support Contract with Airbus (49%) and Thales (51%) for 18 years. Part of a £226 million investment announced by the MOD in 2013, the A400M Training Services Centre at RAF Brize Norton contains two full-flight mission simulators for RAF pilot training together with a large number of specialist workstations for training of load masters, engineers and maintainers together with various other suites of computer-based training equipment. The very impressive replica load master (LM) system provides 3-D views into the Cargo Hold area, very realistic LM training with full functionality of Cargo Hold capability covering dispatch and emergency procedures.

The A400M Training Services Centre has been designed as a facility for both RAF and civilian staff and is very well laid out from a professional and human use perspective. A superb building and facility that has been specifically designed to allow all personnel operating, supporting or maintaining the aircraft to train in a replica environment, in the process, providing students with the best and safest learning experience available. I have been very impressed by the design, capability provided, qualified trainers most of whom are ex-military and the hard work, effort and enthusiasm put in by all Thales staff at this state-of-the-art training facility.

Thales has a long and very well established history of simulation based training and continues to operate RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 synthetic based training activities at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham. The company is also responsible for synthetic training of Tucano pilots at RAF Linton-on-Ouse; for training at the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop; and is charged with building and ultimate operation of the planned ‘High-G’ training centre that will be built at RAF Cranwell.

CHW (London 27th September 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS