In Focus

Muscle memory and simulators in role-based aerial firefighting

While simulators will always be secondary to flying on a real aircraft, these still hold an important place in both pilot and role-based firefighter training. Bella Richards examines the importance of simulators, the NAFC simulator project that kicked off in 2021 and Australias current capabilities.

Simulators build muscle memory, explains Bernie O’Rourke, an aviation and operation supervisor at NSW Rural Fire Service. While it can never truly recreate flying, it lets pilots improve in a safe environment so they can translate those skills to real life. It’s a delicate balance, but, as he explains, “You do your simulation time, and you do real air time, as well.” It’s important because the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires highlighted many gaps in Australia’s firefighting preparedness but especially revealed how the nation must make good use of training simulators.

On top of his duties in the RFS, O’Rourke is also part of a National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) project focused on incorporating more advanced simulators into role-based firefighting training in Australia and New Zealand. While most simulators have predominately focused on advancing pilots’ skills, this project aims to boost the capabilities of air operations managers, air attack supervisors and air observers. These are the people who coordinate aerial dispersant and aircraft in support of controlling, and most importantly diminishing, ravaging fires.

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