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Taking flight with CAE-Link: Canadian company trains military aviators in Jacksonville.

FROM A QUIET ROOM IN Jacksonville, you can soar like an eagle to the far reaches of the earth.

Today, however, the flight gurus who work there are taking a visitor on a joyride to buzz the tower. The TCBY Tower.

This could only happen in a flight simulator.

A Canadian company called CAE-Link, has a $244 million, 12-year contract with the federal government to run the simulator at Little Rock Air Force Base through 1999, along with all other ground-based C-130 flight instruction.

Basically, it's a magic shop.

The object is to teach these aviators everything that is too dangerous to learn in a real airplane, like what to do when an engine cuts out in flight, an aileron stops working or the weather gets really treacherous.

CAE-Link has 283 employees in Arkansas, many of whom are former Air Force pilots. The company injects $6.2 million in salaries into the local economy and provides more than $200,000 a year in local contracts.

The company maintains four simulators at Little Rock Air Force Base that are used by 2,400 students each year. At any particular time, the school hosts 200-300 students including pilots, flight engineers, navigators and loadmasters.

A visit to the company's air base facility revealed a broad range of activities.

In one room, student pilots listen to cockpit tapes from ill-fated flights while watching video maps that track their disastrous courses.

In another, new aviators test out on the part-test trainer, a "dry-run" simulator that acquaints them with the various gadgets of the C-130 cockpit.

And in yet a third, students work with touch-sensitive computer monitors, progressing through a series of flight-oriented tests.

But the real fun is in the simulator, a box on pneumatic legs which resembles the land-walking robots from the movie "Star Wars." It costs $30 million.

An Amazing Flight

The computer array that runs the simulators can process 670,000 instructions per second.

The company has amassed computerized aerial maps covering 404,000 square miles of the earth's surface. Mountains, rivers and lakes are discernible as the simulator moves over terrain, although they appear much more angular and geometric than they do in reality.

John Payne, a former Air Force C-130 pilot and program director for the school, takes a visitor on an entertaining simulator ride with instructor pilot Mike Long assisting.

Payne takes off to the west and commences a gentle turn to the south, working the rudder with his feet to match his slight steering movements with the yoke.

The whole thing is unbelievably real, from the shuddering of the plane on the runway to the eerie sensations of turning and climbing.

As Little Rock approaches on the horizon, the outlines of Arkansas' Excelsior Hotel, the Stephens Building and the TCBY Tower emerge. When crossing the river, a slightly altered but recognizable version of the state Capitol flashes in and out of visibility.

The company's contract originated in 1987, when Link Flight Simulator Division was owned by the Singer Corp., the same company that makes the famous sewing machines.

In 1988 Singer Corp. was purchased by corporate raider Paul Bilzerian, who then sold off the components to separate buyers. CAE Industries of Montreal purchased the flight simulations division.

CAE-Link also does flight simulation for the stealth fighter and runs other high-tech training programs for the Army and Navy.

The company has learning centers in Germany, Japan and Alaska as well as 58 additional sites in the continental United States.

"In the simulator world the objective is to put a student in the seat and make him feel like he is in the real world," engineer Kenneth Altom says.

The staff at CAE-Link is constantly monitoring the students. Meticulous records are kept on every small change in the lesson plan so any pilot training problems can be traced to the source.
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Title Annotation:CAE-Link Corp.; Jacsonville, Arkansas
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 8, 1993
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