Tampa simulator company wins $40M defense contract

TAMPA, Fla. --  A Tampa company has been awarded a $40 million contract to help foreign military pilots learn how to fly C-130 transport planes.

Those are the big boys that transport everything from equipment to soldiers and even fly into hurricanes.

The 5-year deal with the company named CAE could also benefit our local economy. 

Located just north of Tampa International Airport, you'd never know what goes on inside the nondescript building, and that’s probably the way they like it since some of what CAE does is top secret. 

But for this story, the company let us past security to show you why they just landed a $40 million defense contract.

The five-year deal will help foreign militaries learn to fly C-130 aircraft using CAE’s massive flight simulators. 

“Obviously, the U.S. Air Force wants to make sure they're properly trained so they can support not only their missions, but support missions in which the U.S. needs assistance,” said CAE USA’s President Ray Duquette.

Every button knob and switch inside the simulator is identical to the real thing.

The C-130 has been a versatile go-to workhorse for more than 50 years, transporting people, equipment, even flying into storms.

One of the big reasons foreign militaries will send pilots to CAE for their training is so they don't have to use a real aircraft in their countries.

However, CAE software can change the terrain, weather, lighting conditions, almost anything to replicate the areas those pilots come from.

“So this is a good way of being exposed to the elements, to the environment, to the threats that are out there, and to potential emergencies at the may encounter,” said Duquette.

CAE's simulators, which mimic the real thing in stunning detail, also cost a fraction of flying real aircraft.

Under the military contract, each year nearly 1,500 people will come to Tampa to train from all over the globe.

They’ll stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, boosting the local economy. 

“We bring them in,” said Duquette, “They could be here for a week. Some of them are initial pilots, so they have been trained in the C-130, so they're going through that initial training. And that could be months of training.”

CAE also manufactured the flight simulator that trains pilots to operate the KC-135. Those are the huge refueling tankers that fly out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The operation may be all about simulations, but the international military alliances being forged here over the next five years are very real.

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