Sandeep Dikshit

A broken leg in the last five years is the only accident at RAF Valley

  • Simulators conjure up actual flying conditions
  • Any crash at the preliminary training stage happens in virtual reality

    RAF VALLEY (WALES): N.N. Prajuth, Kamal `Rocky' Mudda and Atul Yadav, all trainee Indian Air Force pilots, need not worry about their matrimonial prospects unlike their seniors who used to learn the grammar of flying on the difficult-to-handle MiG-21fighters back in India.

    "I don't think we have had a single fatality while training Royal Air Force pilots and now the Indians here," says Group Captain Tony Barnby, station commander of this picturesque base.

    After signing an agreement with BAE Systems to supply advanced jet trainers (AJT), India also inserted a clause to train its pilots here while the planes were being manufactured.

    The training facility was thrown open to IAF pilots in July 2004. Part of the reason for the casualty-free training is the longer endurance of the Hawk AJTs. A MiG-21 can remain airborne for just over half-an-hour while Hawks can do that three times longer.The training syllabus too is different. India formulated its own prescription for training pilots and in the absence of AJTs, trainee pilots were put on frontline fighter jets after inculcating in them the basics of flying. Here trainees are first put on simulators or dome-shaped machines fitted with a cockpit and projectors that conjure up actual flying conditions. Any crashes at this preliminary stage happen in virtual reality. Trainee pilots do not have to pay with their lives for mistakes as used to happen in India while the Government took over 20 years to select the BAE Systems for supplying 66 AJTs 22 directly imported and the rest to be made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

    The longest-ever training course for IAF pilots on foreign soil is certainly paying dividends, admits Wing Cdr. Pankaj Sinha, the Indian training coordination officer. The 64 hours of "synthetic training" saves lives and is considerably cheaper. The RAF Valley logs over 65,000 flights every year and a broken leg in the past five years is the only recorded accident.

    The IAF pilots are also getting exposed to a different operating culture. The synthetic training is handled by a small team of BAE Systems.More important, the training methodology, to be copied by the IAF, would eliminate the risk factor.