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C-130 News: Inside the 'Monster Garage,' AFSOC’s Secret Training Weapon

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2016-11-29 moster garage.jpg

A vehicle roars out of the back of an MC-130 at high speed, while nearby a man moves around in a virtual-reality headset. Above, winches are lowered and raised on a platform adorned with a Christmas tree. And at the center of it sits a former taco truck, now equipped with a really, really big gun.

It’s not a fever dream of an Air Force maintainer, although it’s not far off. It’s the reality of Kirtland Air Force Base's “Monster Garage,” a key and innovative part of training airmen from the US Air Force Special Operation Command (AFSOC).

During a visit to Kirtland in September, reporters accompanying Secretary of Defense Ash Carter got to tour the Garage in person, getting a hands-on look at the designs that Col. Shelley Rodriguez, Commander of the 58th Operations Group, uses to help train over 2,000 airmen at Kirtland each year.

Weeks after the visit, Rodriguez and Lt. Col. Joe Augustine, Commander of the 58th Training Squadron, told Defense News that increasing the use of simulation for training is a key part of how they plan to train airmen going forward.

As simulation and training technologies have improved, the Pentagon has been explicit in a desire to move more training from live flights to ground-based options. The benefits are obvious: reduced risk to pilots while cutting down on the costs of flying aircraft. As a bonus, trainers can program in a number of situations that would be expensive or impossible to create with a live aircraft.

The Monster Garage takes it a step farther, with a team of fabrication experts who have come up with a number of low-cost, ground-based training solutions. Picture the custom garage guys from shows such as “Pimp My Ride,” complete with black polo shirts adorned with the Monster Garage logo, except instead of adding pool tables to cars they are playing with discarded airplanes that otherwise would end up in the scrap heap.

Rodriguez estimates the Garage saves roughly $57 million each year by providing training alternatives to the tried-and-true method of getting into an aircraft, taking it up, and training live.

The 58th Operations Group trains special operations, combat search and rescue and airlift aircrews in the UH-1H/N, HH-60G, MH-53J/M, HC-130N/P, MC-130P, MC-130H and CV-22 aircraft, and all those platforms are well represented in the Monster Garage.

In total, Augustine said about 70 percent of the training on those platforms can be done with simulation, although that number changes based on the particular aircraft. Flight training on a C-130 model, for example, can be done almost 100 percent on the ground, whereas the CV-22 sits at about 70 percent through simulation.

So what makes up the core of the Monster Garage? Here are just a few of the designs on the floor of the facility:

Load Master Fuselage Trainer- The trainer, built by Lockheed Martin, helps train HC/MC-130 operators to quickly load and unload their aircraft. Essentially, the trainer is a mocked up back of a C-130 with a ramp attached, where loadmasters can simulate having to make a quick unload under enemy fire. During the visit to Kirtland, reporters watched the back ramp drop and a ground vehicle come roaring out the back at full speed.

It runs 15-18 hours a day, five days a week, with roughly 30-40 vehicles coming out the back every day. And that could expand, with Rodriguez saying they were considering opening the trainer up 24 hours a day in order to meet demand.

MC130 Fuselage Trainer – The Monster Garage’s fabrication team showed its value with this design, a retired MC-130E Combat Talon airframe that was on its way to be retired. The fabricators intercepted it and set to work redesigning it into a MC-130H Combat Talon II trainer. The work included stripping off the wings, clipping the propellers, and removing and then reinstalling dozens of feet of wiring inside the plane.

According to an Air Force press release from 2014, a military contractor wanted $15 million to make an equivalent piece of technology. Instead, the Monster Garage people managed to create one for roughly $250,000. Airmen now train about 10-15 hours a day on the system, primarily with training for tie down on the landing gear or loading and offloading vehicles. 

Read more at: http://www.defensenews.com/articles/inside-the-monster-garage-afsocs-secret-training-weapon

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