Public Service, Training

Simulation & Training

By By Charlotte Adams | June 1, 2010

Simulation and training have come a long way in the helicopter world. As the virtual experience becomes more lifelike, operators are recognizing the value of sim time as a complement to in-aircraft training.

That wasn’t always so. Historically, the fixed-wing segment has driven the simulator market, and these aircraft don’t require the same level of visual resolution as their rotary-wing brethren. Early helicopter full-motion simulators were also very expensive to own and operate relative to the aircraft they represented. These simulators could be almost as expensive as a helicopter, and the motion system required a lot of maintenance, recalled Marty Wright, chief flight instructor at the Bell Helicopter Training Academy.

Helicopter flight is a challenge to replicate. The helicopter is a very visual environment, with big windows, side windows and chin bubbles. Low-altitude, low-speed flight puts a premium on resolution. The old full-motion simulators, limited by the prevailing technologies, offered just a few screens—and no chin bubble or downward view. Helicopter motion may also be difficult to capture. Even in climbs and descents, the aircraft have a relatively level nose attitude.


But helicopter simulation leapt forward as computer technology advanced. Visual systems now can represent grass waving in the rotor downwash and visibility through chin bubbles, side windows and overhead windows. Whereas an H-53 simulator in the 1980s required a room with banks of computers, today’s machines are run from a small computer cabinet. In some situations, simulators are “better” for training than the actual aircraft. Instructors can induce main gear oil pressure warnings, for example, or put students in visibility conditions that should not be flown.


As computer technology continues to drive the resolution and realism of visual systems, fixed-based simulators are becoming a more attractive option. A fixed-base simulator with a high-quality visual system and vibration system is more compact, affordable and easily maintainable than a full-motion simulator. But fixed-base vs. motion-base simulation is still a huge debate: what does “real” motion buy you and is it worth the cost? It really depends on what the customer needs, how much he’s willing to pay, how much or little he wants to use the real aircraft in training and other tradeoffs.

Detailed imagery of a FLYIT simulator during a pilot training exercise. FLYIT

The Bell Helicopter Training Academy uses all fixed-based devices with high-fidelity visuals. Given that your perception of where you are in the world is 95 percent-based on visual inputs, a motion system is secondary to the visual system in simulation, Wright said. “I can guarantee anybody—if you go to our fixed-based simulators and stand on the ground next to the cockpit—when the simulator rolls into a turn, you’re going to fall over unless you’re holding on [to the side].” The school currently has Bell 206, 407 and 427 flight training devices (FTDs) from Frasca, as well as a Level 4 flight procedures trainer from Mechtronics that supports the Huey II and the 412. A new Frasca 429 FTD will be qualified to Level 7.

American Eurocopter takes the opposite stance. Traditionally the company had stressed “classical training” in ground school and the actual aircraft. It now has a Eurocopter EC135 Level 6 FTD with full motion, which will be qualified as a Level B full-flight simulator once a vibration system has been added. The EC135 simulator is convertible to an EC145 as a Level 4 FTD since the basic displays are identical. The EC145 will also be upgraded to a Level 6 FTD with the addition of the vibration base. The EC145 simulator, however, cannot be qualified as a full-flight simulator since type is six inches wider than the EC135. The company is adding an AS350 Level B full-flight simulator in August.

American Eurocopter argues that a motion system is necessary to do more than instrument and basic aircraft training. “If you’re trying to do NVG autorotations, you need more cues than just the visual,” said Del Livingston, vice president of flight operations, aviation safety and customer training. “You need that extra five percent you get from the motion.” Without a motion system, you don’t have “absolute realism.” And many customers don’t want to use their aircraft for training or take the helicopters out of service, he added.

But even motion-base simulators are limited in their realism, pointed out Randy Gawenda, a sales representative with Frasca. “You cannot sustain a G force indefinitely in a full-motion device. Obviously it has limits on how far it moves and how long it can sustain an acceleration force before it washes out.” As Gawenda put it: “The idea of being able to do everything in the simulator is great for airlines, but at some point you’ve got to fly the ship. If you’re going to do some training and line checking in the aircraft anyway, why pay $20 million to do everything in a simulator?”


Scenario-based training is becoming an industry watchword—fidelity not only to the aircraft but to the operator’s specific mission. It’s gotten to the point where people want mission training, “not in a generic session but on their own oil rig,” said Claude Lauzon, CAE’s vice president of civil aviation services.

Bell’s Training Academy has developed mission-specific scenarios for law enforcement and EMS personnel. If a law enforcement customer is coming in, there’ll be a scene with bad guys in the neighborhood, Wright said. While the pilot is circling around looking for the bad guys, Bell will introduce some emergency procedures. For EMS customers, there will be a crash scene and the pilot will have to land next to it. For the oil and gas industry, the pilot can land on a rig in a water environment.

Frasca and FlightSafety Intl’s Bell 206B simulator recently received Level 7 certification from FAA. The FTD is based at the FSI Learning Center in Lafayette, La. FlightSafety International

American Eurocopter described two visual databases. With the Dallas/Fort Worth area database EMS customers can land at the Methodist Hospital’s elevated helipad or the downtown Dallas helipad rotor port. They can also go north to “High Five,” the confluence of five roads. There’s an accident scene in the database with a lot of obstructions, he said. The company also offers a Spanish database modeled on the coastline of the Bay of Biscay but whose terrain also resembles the American Southwest. This features a city, hospitals, an offshore oil platform and a naval frigate to land on. The company’s new AS350 simulator will offer law enforcement customers scenarios such as Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles. “They can go downtown and be involved in chases,” Livingston said.

FlightSafety International and other companies emphasize night vision goggle simulation. FSI expected NVG certification of its Level 7 AS350 FTD at any moment. Besides the adjustment of the visual display system, NVG certification also involves adjustments to the cockpit lighting, instrument illumination and ambient lighting to make sure that it’s compatible and realistic. FSI is also modifying its Bell 412 FFS for NVG.

CAE also stresses visual technology. The first three things that are important about helicopter flight simulation are the visual, the visual and the visual, Lauzon said, citing the company’s advisory board. Taking that philosophy further, CAE has introduced artificial intelligence (AI) with its new CAE 3000 series, beginning with an AS350B2 Level 7 FTD. AI.Implant software, with a Tropos-6000 image generator, adds characters that interact with the pilot. This intensifies the immersive experience by forcing the pilot to multitask and operate in a more realistic environment, according to CAE. Regulators may not offer big training credits, but operators, insurers and oil companies recognize the value because it looks more like the real world, said Lauzon.

CAE is also bringing tools developed for flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) into the training world, a concept known as evidence-based training. Data from real aircraft or simulators can be used to help pilots analyze their performance in the aircraft or the simulator and to customize future instruction to their needs. Data from a simulator session can be visualized and analyzed in a brief/debrief station, a standard part of CAE’s training suite, typically located in a classroom/office setting. In the case of a simulator session, it can be used to play back the session, or segments of the session, so the pilot can observe his performance from the instructor’s perspective.

CAE Flightscape Insight software is being integrated with a number of simulators in CAE training centers with plans to incorporate it into the AS350B2 simulator to be deployed this summer. CAE has an ongoing demonstration/validation initiative with Concurrent Technologies Corp. and the U.S. Air Force to explore the benefits of applying military FOQA concepts to the full-flight simulator training environment to enhance safety.

Companies are also looking to train other crewmembers such as law enforcement tactical flight officers (TFOs) and EMS cabin personnel. Eurocopter’s new AS350 full-flight simulator will be configured with a cockpit and an aft cabin, so it can be used to train law enforcement SWAT teams or scene commanders. EMS customers will also be able to train with NVGs.

FSI is also gauging interest in TFO training. On the EMS side the company already offers air medical resource training that reinforces communications between pilots and crews. The pilot and medical crew take canned weather briefings, for example, and participate in simulator sessions. FSI has used Bell 430, Bell 412 and Sikorsky S-76 simulators. The air medical resource training program emphasizes things like getting the cabin crew to be more forthcoming about their concerns, Ferito said. There could be a weather briefing, for example, that is shaped in a way to induce people to speak up. On the EMS pilot side the weather briefing and fact situation could be such that the only correct action is for the pilot to decline the flight. “If they get in the simulator and push the start button, they fail the exercise.”

Interchangeable Sims

Many simulators can be used to represent two types of ships, but FLYIT’s Professional Helicopter Simulator (PHS) can cover six different aircraft types. PHS, the company’s standard rotorcraft simulator, can represent the Robinson R22 and R44, Schweizer 300, Enstrom 280FX, turbine MD500 and Bell 206. For law enforcement customers the trainer can also be set up as an OH-58 at no extra cost, said Terry Simkins, FLYIT president. The flight instruments are represented on flat panels. The flight training device is equivalent to Level 3 FTD with approval for VFR and IFR training. Customers are required to come to FLYIT for two to three days of training to optimize use and learn about the components. The PHS uses Microsoft Flight Simulator X as a graphic engine, combined with the company’s own flight models and a Jeppesen airport database. It is priced at $139,000, which includes the trainer, visual system, air conditioned trailer classroom, instructor station and relevant software. FLYIT also offers a customized AS350B2 training system for an additional $10,000.

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