A new digital simulation program is giving local cadets a unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to operate jets, submarines and unmanned aerial vehicles.
The software — a program called Prepar3D — that creates the real-life experience was donated to the Cadet Youth Development Centre, home of the 822 Tutor Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.
The squadron is now the only one if its kind in Canada to offer this type of simulated training for free to youth ages 12 to 18.
“This is about as realistic as it gets … it’s pretty much like flying the real thing, it has that feel to it t,” said Brandon Kecser, 14, who dreams of becoming an air force pilot.
The flight training simulator is operated on a row of computers at the centre, each with an overhanging barrier that mimics being inside a cockpit.
“It teaches the basics of flying, and we get a head start,” said Curtis Steinmann, 14, who also wants to become an air force pilot.
The program operates similarly to online gaming software that allows users — in aerospace training and in other scenarios on land or water — to see and interact with one another in the simulated environment.
“We’ll be able to have the sea cadets, the air cadets and the army cadets all working on an exercise like in the real world,” said Ltd. Col. Ronald Gowing (Ret.), founder and programming director of the centre.
Once air cadets are trained in the cockpit stations, they also have the opportunity to try out the program in a more lifelike cockpit they can sit inside and view the simulated world on multiple screens.
Lockheed Martin Training and Logistics Solutions, a global security and aerospace company based in the U.S., decided to provide the local cadets with the technology because of centre’s focus on engaging youth in STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’re planting the seeds we hope these kids will pick up … that they will plan their education to correspond,” Gowing explained.
The company also provided enough licences for the software to allow the local centre to set up satellite stations in the future so cadets in other regions can benefit from the program and learn from Waterloo Region’s volunteer instructors.
While the software is perfect for educating future pilots like Kecser and Steinmann, other cadets also gain skills through the program that can be applied to a variety of fields from robotics to policing.
Former cadet and current volunteer Jesse Grubb, 23, said his interest in aviation brought him to the centre in his teens but when he discovered the robotics program, it turned into a new path.
“I was actually going to be a pilot, I was doing my flying scholarship through here and found out I was colour-blind and so I got into robotics,” he explained.
Now graduated from Conestoga College’s robotics program and working in Guelph, Grubb still helps at the centre teaching current cadets about robotics and simulation software.
That progression from being a cadet to starting a career in STEM-related industries is what Gowing said he hopes to see more of among the more than 300 youth currently taking part in the centre’s programs.
And many youth are well on their way to discovering their passion.
Nikola Savic, 16, a cadet currently participating in the robotics program, said he plans to pursue studies in mathematics.
“I like buildings things … I see this more as a hobby, something fun to do, but maybe in a later career,” he said of the prospects of working in robotics in the future.
Getting youth interested in STEM disciplines at a young age is important so they begin taking the right courses from high school, Gowing said.
Exploring many career options and working with retired professionals like himself also give youth the chance to find a career they love, he added.
“We’re promoting the idea for these kids to try everything, find something you like and you’ll never work a day in your life. Because if you find something you love … it’s not really work.”
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