MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. (AP) — Tami Yarnall, a CDL instructor, was behind the wheel of a new teaching tool on a recent Thursday at Schuylkill Technology Center's campus at Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport.

Made up of a console and three large monitors, the TranSim VS6 truck-driving simulator is akin to an arcade game. But it's something student drivers can use to learn basics on how to drive a tractor-trailer and other commercial vehicles.

"They can practice maneuvers before they get in the truck and go out there. The advantage to that is in here, you can't tear up the clutch," David Welch, Arlington, Texas, trainer for L3 Technologies, Salt Lake City, Utah, said. L3 Technologies installed it Nov. 6.

"It will take a lot of wear and tear off the equipment. When students can learn to double-clutch using this, it will save a lot of maintenance on the equipment. For forever, students have been out there wearing clutches out," Yarnall said as she guided the digital vehicle across a parking lot of pixels.

"You can't really wear out the clutch on this," she said.

It can introduce students to different types of vehicles.

"This is a truck tractor with a 53-foot-long trailer on the back. You can change loads. It's a 10-speed transmission we have it set at," she said.

Also overseeing the training Thursday were Gregory S. Koons, superintendent of STC and executive director of Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, and Brittany K. Kellman, the new business manager for STC and IU 29.

Koons was fascinated how the simulator could test a student's skills by introducing numerous road conditions.

"It even has weather conditions. See, there it's raining," Koons said.

Later, Welch made it snow.

The simulator includes a seat, steering wheel and controls that are similar to those in trucks. Three screens show the road, scenery and the rear-view mirrors. There are sound effects and other sensory controls built into the seat to give the student the feel of being on the road.

"If you hit something, you'll feel it. If you miss a gear, it will grind," Yarnall said.

When a student uses the simulator, a teacher can watch the student from a laptop at a nearby desk.

"When you're watching a student use this, you can tell when they're riding the clutch and what bad habits they have, like when they're not looking at their mirrors," Yarnall said.

The teacher can also see how the student handles the unexpected.

While she was traveling along the digital road, she came upon a few digital vehicles that were stopped. One of them had hit a digital deer.

"It's not a game," Yarnall said.

"And when they're finished a round, we can hit the replay button to show the entire drive they just did," Welch said.

Then, Chris Groody, coordinator of postsecondary and community-based education at STC, gave it a try.

He was set up to drive a digital Freightliner truck tractor hitched up to an empty 53-foot flatbed.

"It's another seat students can drive in. Right now I think we have 10 students in the current CDL group and we only have two trucks. So, I mean, they're sharing seat time. So this will add a third truck, essentially. And it will give them a way to practice backing, shifting and whatever they need to work on," Groody said.

The simulator can introduce students to numerous vehicles. Welch estimated there were "more than 50."

They include a 10-wheel dump truck, a municipal garbage truck, a SWAT command vehicle, a Peterbilt car hauler, a concrete truck, a utility bucket truck six-speed automatic and various tractor-trailers.

"Here's one that's got an 18-speed transmission with two trailers. Here's one with 18-speed and three trailers. Here's one with a flatbed trailer that's empty. Here's one that's full. Here's one that's half full," Welch said as he scrolled the menu.

"We'll start using it immediately, as soon as Tami feels comfortable using it with the students," Groody said.

He said current CDL students have been trying it out.

"But it will be an integral part of the next class, which starts in January," Groody said.

STC received a $121,500 grant for the simulator from the state Department of Labor & Industry for the Skill Enhancement and Workforce Opportunity Project. STC received the grant with help from the Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Investment Board.

"It covers the training simulator, the software, installation costs, training services and a full-service warranty," Koons said previously.

STC started its CDL program in 1993 on the grounds of the Schuylkill County Fire School in the Altamont section of West Mahanoy Township. In 1997, the course moved to Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport, where Schuylkill Technology Center leases space from the county airport authority.

This is the first time the program has had a training simulator like the TranSim VS6, Yarnall said.

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Information from: Pottsville Republican and Herald, http://www.republicanherald.com