The Army is using a new helicopter simulator, called the Non-rated Crew Member Manned Module (NCM3), to train helicopter crews on the rear of both the CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk. Through specially created virtual reality glasses, which fit the same as night vision goggles, soldiers can practice and perfect gunnery tasks, as well as practice sling load and hoist operations without ever leaving the ground.

The NCM3 includes task-driven scenarios, which can be adjusted by the instructor to include weather conditions, lighting variations, and other specific situations. The training can also be linked with the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, allowing crew chiefs and other soldiers to communicate seamlessly with the helicopter's pilot who may be training in a different simulator. And the realism goes beyond what the gunners or other crew members might see on the screen during the simulated flight. The weaponry is also affected by a control load box, which gives the Soldier a sense of wind resistance on the gun.

"The weapons are M240[H]s that we actually use in the Army," explained Sgt. 1st Class Richard Madill. "The only thing they did was they took the mechanism out that allows it to fire. It has sensors all over to allow you to control it. It tells you when you have your mock ammo loaded, it tells you when they pull the triggers and different things like that.

The simulator can also create thunderstorms, and when it does you can hear the thunder and see the lightning. And when equipped with the virtual glasses, soldiers feel as if they are actually onboard a helicopter, to the point that they can even lean out simulated bubble windows created for the CH-47. Why is that important?

"He's able to look up at the engine compartment and make sure it's not on fire or leaking oil," explained Madill of the simulated window's importance to a crew member.

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