Simulator for the skies

Member News image Manager Operational Doctrine and Training Rohan Gordon and Chief Officer Jason Heffernan


A prototype training simulator developed by CFA’s aviation team has supported the training and accreditation of hundreds of airborne volunteers and staff from all agencies.


The trailer-based prototype is designed to enhance the training of fire aviation personnel such as Air Attack Supervisors and Observers, allowing them to undertake mapping, air attack missions, direct aircraft and practise communication and radio skills in a simulated environment.

Replicating the interior of an aircraft, the trailer uses photorealistic mapping software and communication technology to immerse pilots and students in the flight experience, with large screens providing a 180-degree view of the surrounding landscape.

The assessor or scenario leader coordinates each mission from a control area, feeding the pilot and student communications just as they would if they were in the air.

Image of prototype aviation simulator

It can be programmed to train students in any scenario in any of the aircraft used for aerial firefighting in Australia, including re-enacting past operations for After Action Reviews and pre-season training.  

The simulator was designed and developed by CFA Commander Operational Response and Coordination John Katakouzinos, who started the project in his garage during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

With the help of CFA training staff Paul Cockrill and Chris Thom, John was able to finesse the final concept utilising CFA Training’s virtual reality technology, a prop trailer and existing audio and visual equipment.

John said the simulator has provided real-world training and skill testing in a safe, controlled environment as well as the ability for training to be tailored to suit a student’s needs.

“In additional to enabling airborne firefighters to train prior to completing their practical sky-based assessments, a simulator of this kind allows for reaccreditation of aviation personnel in situations such as the pandemic where restrictions meant in-person training couldn’t take place,” John said.

Image of people undertaking training

Over the last few years, 220 Air Attack Supervisors, Air Attack Observers and Airborne Mission Commanders were trained or reaccredited using the prototype simulator.

The simulator has also been used to train pilots and ground staff in team resource management. 

John said that this simulator is the first fire aviation trailer-based simulator of its kind in Australia.

“Our goal now is to seek funding to develop one fixed and two of the trailer simulators with the view to sharing these across the emergency services sector - similar to how we book and use our CFA trailer-based props across the state,” John said.

Image of people undertaking training

Chief Officer Jason Heffernan recently had the opportunity to try out the simulator before it was presented to leaders from across the emergency services sector. 

He commended John and the team for the development of the trailer, saying it would be a vital asset for aviation training across the sector.

“Aerial firefighting plays a pivotal role in supporting our firefighters and personnel on the ground during a fire,” Jason said.

“It was great to sit in the seat again and put my skills in mapping, radio communication and air observation to the test.

“It’s important that we have training options such as this available to increase the experience and skills of our people and ensure we are as prepared as possible for our fire seasons.

“The ability to review previous missions and assess different attack scenarios using a simulator is also extremely beneficial for continuous improvement and learning – and it’s not something you can replicate to this level of detail in a sand table environment.”

The prototype has been approved by all agencies to proceed, with a funding model to be developed over the coming months.



Submitted by Shaunnagh O'Loughlin