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JMATS Simulator: Gateway to C-130

A woman looks up at a man on a ladder inside a plane simulator.

Two loadmaster students train in a fuselage simulator at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Sept. 5, 2019. Loadmaster students work with student pilots in the full-motion simulator closely, but also have another simulator that replicates the fuselage where they train independently. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

Two men sit in front of the controls of a simulator that is made to look like the inside of a plane.

A C-130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System pilot instructor watches students at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Sept. 5, 2019. JMATS can simulate weather anomalies and emergencies aircrew could encounter in the aircraft to make the flying experience as realistic as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

A big whit box like structure sits on big metal stilts.

The C-130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System is a simulator that replicates the cockpit of a C-130J at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. The simulator is a teaching device that reproduces the flying environment a crew member would face in the real plane. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)


C-130J pilots and loadmasters are in the air regularly, executing the tactical airlift mission — but a mistake in the air could lead to aircraft damage or even loss of life. Extensive training is done to ensure members of Team Little Rock who are in the air know exactly what to do when faced with a challenge.

The C-130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System team teaches the next generation of loadmasters and pilots using simulations to teach the students to perform their job safely and effectively before going to the flight line.

Upon completion of initial training, JMATS is the first portion of training the C-130J loadmasters and pilots receive with the plane.

“JMATS is the first doorway into the C-130J that the new pilots and loadmaster students see,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Stephenson, 714th Training Squadron flight commander.

Students begin their training at a very basic level of instruction, starting with static simulations and classroom instruction, which gradually leads them into training in the full-motion simulator.

In order for the students to know where the controls are in the real plane, the simulator accurately mirrors the inside of a real C-130J.

“The simulator, for the most part, fully replicates the flying environment for pilots,” Stephenson said. “[It] can simulate all kinds of weather anomalies and emergencies you would encounter in the aircraft. All the buttons, switches and dials fully replicate the ones inside the actual aircraft.’

In the simulator, the students check their knowledge by testing what they have learned. If they get something wrong, the instructors can simply stop the simulation.

“I would rather them make a mistake in a simulator than a real plane,” Stephenson said. “That’s the benefit of a simulation — if an emergency happens, you learn a lot more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. In a simulator, an instructor can push pause, and they can talk about what went wrong.”

The JMATS instructors strive for both the loadmaster and pilot students to learn to work together, so for a segment of the training they are subjected to simulated emergencies, which encourages the students to communicate and execute appropriate procedures.

“The students learn crew resource management going through the simulators,” Stephenson said. “If an emergency happens, the loadmaster and pilot students learn how to work as a team by running through emergency checklists and handling the situation.”

Loadmaster students work with the pilots in the full-motion simulator closely, but they also have another simulator that replicates the fuselage where they can perform more technical training.

“In addition to sitting with the pilots and working on crew resource management in the full-motion simulator, loadmaster students go to the fuselage trainer, which is a replica of the back of a C-130, and they get hands on training with handling cargo before they go to the flight line,” Stephenson said.

The simulator is seen as an important part of streamlining the training process and potentially keeps aircrew from making a mistake while behind the controls of an actual C-130J.

“The simulator is critical because it builds the students’ knowledge level that we do not have the time to teach down at the flightline,” Stephenson said.

The instructors feel a sense of pride in knowing that upon completion of their training at JMATS, the students will have a basic understanding of their role in the tactical airlift mission.

“We take pride in what we do and what we accomplish,” said Kent Gordon, JMATS deputy lead loadmaster instructor. “We want to help the next generation to step up and be a vital part of this mission.”

The loadmaster and pilot instructors may not teach the same curriculum, but the mission is the same for both.

“It’s very important that we work together as a team,” Gordon said. “The goal is the same — to get loadmasters and pilots out there performing the tactical airlift mission.”

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