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RAF LAKENHEATH, England – Air crews who fly and maintain the F-15E Strike Eagle jet will be at the forefront of their field early next year with the arrival of new, state-of-the-art flight simulators.

RAF Lakenheath will be just the third Air Force base worldwide to get the $35 million Boeing simulators, which will give crews a better view of the battlefield while allowing them to train with other aircraft stationed around the world.

To date, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., have the new F-15E simulators. The ones coming to Lakenheath will have improvements based on the experiences at those installations, according to Capt. Shawn Holsinger, simulations flight commander for the 48th Operational Support Squadron.

The tentative plan, if all the testing goes smoothly, is to have the new simulators operational by February, Holsinger said.

The simulators are certainly needed. F-15E pilots and weapons-systems officers like Holsinger, better known as “wizzos,” use simulators at Lakenheath that came out nearly 20 years ago.

“Imagine a cockpit straight out of the jet on a platform, and they put a black tarp on it,” Holsinger said, describing the old simulators. “That’s it.”

The new simulators are being leased from Boeing, and the company will provide staff — many of them former pilots — for training and maintenance, according to Bob Steele, the projects officer and liaison between the government and Boeing.

“The [old simulator] is definitely at the end of its usefulness,” Holsinger said. “We really needed something else.”

Two of the wing’s three fighter squadrons fly the F-15E, while the third uses the C and D models. The C and D models currently are grounded due to inspections for possible structural failures.

The new F-15E simulators will feature 360-degree projections surrounding the cockpits, so pilots and wizzos will be able to see the environment around them with the naked eye, Holsinger said.

“We’ll be able to look outside, look over the rails, and see our target,” he said, adding that missions like close-air support rely on being able to look out instead of relying on instruments. “Being able to see things on the ground can be a huge asset.”

Maintenance crews will also be able to work on the simulators, dealing with emergencies that can’t be performed on a functioning jet, Steele said.

Four units that open like a clam shell will make up the new simulators, Holsinger said, with two shells for pilots and two for their wizzo counterparts.

The new simulators also will let air crews link up with other aircraft around the world to do training missions together, he said.

The F-15C crews have already simulated training with Air Force brethren in Asia and the States, Holsinger said.

“You had people around the world in three different theaters,” he said. “That is a huge capability. We don’t have those other assets we can go fly with day-to-day.”

The new simulators also can generate threats that F-15E crews can’t mimic while flying over England or Europe.

Crews will be able to react to surface-to-air threats, while getting more hands-on training in emergency procedures that can’t be mimicked in a real cockpit, Holsinger said.

“Ideally, everybody would always rather fly,” he said. “But there are certain things that I just can’t do in the air, and that I’ll need a simulator for.”

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