ATLANTA — CAE USA is moving full steam ahead to build a new fixed-wing training facility for aviators under a contract it won from the Army in March, as a lawsuit objecting to the service's decision filed by the losing, incumbent company continues to play out in court, according to CAE USA's president.

FlightSafety International, which has held the Army contract for Army C-12 fixed-wing training since the 1980s, was beat out in a competition in June 2015. The company subsequently filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which put the whole project on hold.

But before the GAO could make a decision near the end of the 90-day deadline, FlightSafety withdrew its protest and proceeded to file a lawsuit in the US Court of Federal Claims.

The Army decided to take a second look at the three competitors that submitted offerings and determined that CAE and FlightSafety were the highest qualified candidates, according to Raymond Duquette, CAE USA's leader. The service then assessed both offers, assigning it strengths and weaknesses.

Following the second assessment, the Army determined CAE should win the contract and awarded it to the company on March 10.

As part of the deal, CAE will build a new, 75,000 square-foot training facility from scratch at Dothan Regional Airport near Fort Rucker, Alabama, where the Army trains its entry-level, rotary-wing pilots.

The company is required to provide services within 12 months of the contract award. Even though the FlightSafety lawsuit is still pending in court, a judge ruled CAE could keep working.

Duquette said based on preliminary preparation, CAE should not have a problem meeting the deadline. He noted the company and the Army have partnered for decades. CAE provides simulation training services for AH-64 Apaches and has rapidly built five of six simulators on contract for the LUH-72A Lakota helicopter, the new training aircraft to replace TH-67s at Fort Rucker.

The decision to retire the TH-67 single-engine helicopter and replace it with a dual-engine glass cockpit Lakota was part of a larger Army aviation restructure initiative. The decision has not been without controversy, with some arguing the Lakota is too expensive and too complicated for a first-time pilot.

But CAE has a unique solution to transition pilots from flying Lakotas to flying fixed-wing aircraft, Duquette said.

The Army is shifting from typically transitioning, seasoned, rotary-wing pilots to fly fixed-wing aircraft to training them right after basic rotary-wing flight school. The process requires a different approach, according to Duquette.

For one, CAE plans to use the GROB 120TP aircraft to help transition pilots that are coming from using a stick and collective to fly. The GROB aircraft has a stick and throttle, making for a smooth and incremental transition. Then the pilot is trained in a C-12 using a stick and yoke.

"We believe it's a nice progression," Duquette said, adding that all the aircraft have glass cockpits so there's no switching from a glass cockpit back to steam gauges, then back to a glass cockpit.

On the flight simulation side, CAE has used a unique approach to organizing simulators. Under the contract, CAE will build two full flight simulators, but it will also build two unique motion platforms with the capability to roll on and roll off different aircraft cockpits, according to Duquette. The company calls these "motherships."

The reason it’s important to have such a capability, he explained, is that there are three different C-12 variants which CAE must accommodate in the facility. When the cockpits aren’t being used on the motherships, then they can be used for other training but won’t have the motion platform, Duquette said.

CAE will ultimately provide everything from a gym to a cafeteria to classrooms, except for C-12 aircraft, which are government furnished, Duquette noted. The C-12s will also be maintained by another company which has a contract to maintain all C-12s in the Army inventory. That contract is now being re-competed.


Twitter: @JenJudson

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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