23 May, 2013

Neoteric President Evaluates the U.S. Navy LCAC Training Program

Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald was invited this month to Assault Craft Unit 4 in Virginia Beach to review the U.S. Navy’s training protocol for LCAC (Landing Craft, Air Cushion) crews. 39 of the Navy’s fleet of 72 LCACs are based at Virginia Beach; the remainder are based in California.

Each LCAC crew consists of a craftmaster (pilot), a navigator, an engineer, a deck engineer and a loadmaster. All are trained using a preliminary simulator, then a Full-Motion Flight Simulator, followed by final training in actual LCACs – a costly protocol with low retention rates. Trainees spend two months of daily 4-hour intervals on the simulators before they ever get behind the controls of an actual LCAC.

Fitzgerald gives the preliminary simulator’s bow thruster controls a final check
before he boards the Full-Motion Simulator.
Craftmaster trainer Andy Sutter and Chris Fitzgerald prepare to board a Full-Motion Simulator
for a flight session – an integral part of LCAC training, but also one where many trainees
are excluded from the program.
In contrast, military aircraft pilots are first trained in light aircraft, then in heavy aircraft. As is the case with aircraft, the operating principles of light hovercraft are the same as those of heavy hovercraft. Fitzgerald, who is also founder of Hovercraft Training Centers LLC, has trained hovercraft pilots for decades, and he believes the aircraft protocol can be applied to LCAC training. His trip to Virginia Beach – which included a chance to pilot an LCAC on the Atlantic Ocean without any training – verified his theory.

Fitzgerald and Sutter ready to board U.S. Navy LCAC 50 for a proficiency flight,
which all LCAC crews undergo on a regular basis in order to hone their skills.
Prior to his LCAC flight in Virginia Beach, the largest hovercraft Fitzgerald had ever flown was a 20-passenger craft. After piloting the 100-ton $22 million LCAC, he observed, “I found it relatively easy, and that was with no advance instruction. I had no trouble getting over the hump, operating in a straight line, turning, modulating speed, stopping. I attribute that to my experience piloting smaller light hovercraft; it was pretty much second nature.”

In piloting the LCAC on the Atlantic Ocean, Fitzgerald’s experience piloting light hovercraft
easily transferred to the heavy military hovercraft. 
Hovercraft Training Centers is working with officials to develop a proposal for the U.S. Navy to consider utilizing  HTC to provide initial LCAC crew training. Not only would this expedite the process and lower costs, it would also improve the current trainee dropout rate because light hovercraft could be used to attract and prequalify suitable candidates.

Plans are underway for U.S. Navy craftmaster trainer Andy Sutter to come to Hovercraft Training Centers’ headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana to undergo a 12-hour StandardTraining course, after which he will consult with HTC to determine the value of incorporating preliminary light hovercraft training into the Navy’s current LCAC program.

This method could also be readily applied to training crews for the SSC (Ship-to-Shore Connector), the new hovercraft intended to replace the Navy’s fleet of aging LCACs. 

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