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DRAGON simulator to augment AWACS training for the US Air Force


A new US  Air Force Life Cycle Management Center simulator will train pilots and flight engineers operating the E-3 Sentry, or AWACS, aircraft updated with cockpit modifications known as DRAGON, which stands for Diminishing manufacturing sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation.


DRAGON simulator to augment AWACS training for the US Air Force Inside the cockpit of the first of 24 E-3 Sentry aircraft to undergo glass flight deck modification known as DRAGON (Picture source: Air Force photo by Kelly White)


AFLCMC’s Simulator Division recently delivered the simulator to Air Combat Command’s 552nd Air Control Group located at Tinker Air Force Base.

DRAGON, replaces 1970s analog technology with digital, automated aircraft navigation functions, and it ensures E-3 aircraft are compliant with current and future air traffic control requirements.

Overall, the upgrades increase aircraft capabilities and reduce maintenance costs.

The new simulator, known as the DRAGON Flight Training Device, is configured to replicate the digital flight deck of an E-3 aircraft. It will provide E-3 aircrews with realistic flight training and eventually replace the non-DRAGON configured simulators across the fleet.

“It’s important to train like you fight, so you have to match your training to what you are actually doing operationally,” said Lt. Col. Emilio Talipan, Simulators Division program manager leading the DRAGON effort. “ACC required a simulator to match the (upgraded) aircraft, so they came to us.”

Talipan added that the successful design, development and delivery of the simulator was a testament to the hard work and persistence of his team, ACC and industry partner, L3 Harris.

“There were several challenges along the way during the history of this program,” Talipan said. “We overcame those in part by adapting our acquisition style and approach. I’ve been fortunate to work with a phenomenal group of people that have made this a success.”

DRAGON Increment 2 is the next phase, and it is expected to deliver a full-motion simulator in July of 2021 with another full motion simulator to follow during Increment III. All three DRAGON Increments will be housed in the Consolidated Simulator building that is currently being built on Tinker AFB.

The new training facility of more than 50,000 square feet will network the E-3 DRAGON flight deck simulator with the E-3 mission crew simulator, completing the full "train as you fight" circle.

The total cost of all three simulators, including sustainment until 2024, is $66 million.

“The simulator world is going to be leaned on more heavily by the Air Force in the future,” Talipan said. “(Simulator) technology has come along in such a way that we can now simulate the full environment operationally and never expose our hand to our adversaries. Say, for example you fly the E-3 or F-22 (Raptor) at full capability. Now adversaries could potentially see exactly what the envelope of the E-3 or F-22 are. However, if you train in the simulator environment, now you can really press the envelope of the aircraft and still keep it a lot more secure and away from what our adversaries can see.”