American Eurocopter has introduced a new dimension in flight simulators at its Grand Prairie, Texas training center. Referred to as the AS350 Full Mission Trainer, the one-of-a-kind system takes simulated flying two steps past the usual fare of pilot training, by adding fully interactive positions that permit a tactical flight officer or copilot (left seat), and a counter-sniper (left-rear seat), to train simultaneously as a three-person airborne law enforcement team. Indra Systems, the Spanish technology company that designed and built the full-motion simulator for Eurocopter, gives crews an authentic AS350 flight deck and aft cabin interior, while creating a true-to-life flight model of the B2 and B3 variants of the A-Star, along with a virtual “outside world” that offers strikingly detailed scenery from the trainees’ home jurisdiction. The cities of Los Angeles and Houston were used during development and for its October 8th public unveiling. For the pilot, every airport, navigation aid, weather and terrain feature is faithfully represented—including names atop skyscrapers—throughout a wrap-around field of view. For the left-seater, forward-looking infrared and a moving map system are installed and functional. In the back seat, a third team member, equipped with a weapon simulator, can look out of the opened side door and engage hostile targets. Night vision equipment can also be used by the participants. “One of the most important things we see in the simulator is the added safety factor,” said Martin Jackson, president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, one of the organizations that helped develop scenarios, such as vehicle and foot pursuits. “It will give the pilot and the crew better chances to work together.” Once a scenario has been run, a graphic record allows the crew to review everything from how the aircraft was flown, to the accuracy of the counter-sniper’s shots. Scenarios can be rerun or modified for continued training. —By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large
American Eurocopter, 1-972-641-0000, www.eurocopterusa.com
FligthSafety International is offering “Surviving Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions,” a course designed to improve the outcomes of inadvertent IMC encounters. More than half of the flights in a recent FAA review of helicopter accidents began as VFR flights and then encountering IMC. This course helps pilots lay a foundation for developing a plan to reduce IIMC encounters and for developing a plan for recovery in case you do go IMC. FSI can custom-tailor instruction to accommodate all sectors of the helicopter industry. Ground school covers a range of topics like human factors, situational awareness, communications and recovery from IIMC. This course is available for the Bell 212, Bell 412 and Bell 430 at several locations, including the Fort Worth Learning Center in Hurst, Texas. The course can be adapted to any helicopter. FSI stresses that it’s critical to have a sound and well-practiced strategy to maintain safety should a pilot encounter weather unexpectedly. Decisions made in the first pivotal moments can decide the outcome. FlightSafety’s course gives pilots the tools needed to react appropriately. The format encourages sharing of procedures and experiences with other pilots and instructors in an interactive environment that thrives on participation. Master best practices for the safest responses to inadvertent IMC. The course teaches successful strategies to ensure that flights conform to plan and doesn’t exceed training or equipment. Instruction stresses human factors such as decision-making and breaking the error chain. Simulator training reinforces ground school and applies the procedures and policies from ground school. There are two levels, basic and advanced. Basic is five hours (four in ground school and one in the sim) and advanced is five-and-a-half hours (four in ground school and one-and-a-half in the sim). FlightSafety Intl, 1-817-785-0800, www.flightsafety.com
Looking back at the slow gestation of night vision goggle (NVG) capabilities in military helicopter aviation, those of us who fly regularly using NVGs are often baffled by the fact that aided night flying took so long to become the norm. Of course, the goggles that military aviators are flying with today are far superior to those that existed just over a decade ago. Looking at civilian helicopter aviation from the military world, many seasoned NVG military pilots wonder why use of NVGs in the civil sector has appeared to take the same slow path of acceptance that the technology did in the military despite the benefits of the latest night vision technology.
One of the sticking points in the incorporation of NVG flying in the civilian world has been the need for standardized training that was, of course, FAA authorized. Other factors have played a role as well. NVG-compatible cockpits, the cost of equipment, and operational paradigms have all played a part in the incorporation of NVG flying in the civil sector.
Several companies in the private sector have become one-stop-shops for civilian night vision needs. One of those companies is Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU) in Boise, Idaho. ASU is the sole supplier of ITT Night Vision equipment to non-military customers. ITT Night Vision and Imaging has long been a supplier of night vision equipment to the U.S. military. Allying with ITT, ASU not only handles sales of ITT equipment to domestic and international customers—both civilian and military—the company also provides FAA-approved night vision goggle training, FAA-approved night vision cockpit modifications, and serves as ITT’s maintenance facility for goggles. ASU conducts night vision training at its facilities in Boise or at a customer’s base of operations. Training programs for NVG aircrew include initial NVG pilot, NVG crewmember, instructor CFI NVG and recurrent pilot NVG training.
Military aviators with NVG experience will instantly recognize similarities in their military NVG syllabi and the training program ASU offers. This is not surprising when considering that ASU’s instructors are former military aviators who have been flying using night vision equipment from the earliest days of the technology in both the military and civilian environments. Additionally, the experience of ASU’s pilots allowed it to become the first non-EMS FAA Part 135 NVG commercial operator in the U.S. ASU is also the FAA’s sole instructional facility for NVG certification of FAA safety inspectors.
Like military training programs, the eight-hour ground school portion of the ASU program focuses on the physiology of the eye and night vision, the atmospherics of night flying, goggle limitations and visual illusions, goggle malfunctions and emergency procedures, as well as care and feeding of night vision equipment. There is an emphasis on the latter topic that is sometimes missed by military flight training programs (or forgotten after years of using NVGs). As the sole sales outlet for ITT NVGs, the ASU staff is well aware of the cost of night vision equipment and they spend a lot of time teaching students how to maximize the life of the goggles by taking simple and reasonable steps to reduce wear and tear on the goggles and peripheral components.
In the early days of military flight with NVGs, a huge emphasis was placed on knowing the dynamic night environment. Not only were pilots exposed to lengthy lectures on the lunar cycle, but night flights were designated as “High Light Level” (HLL) or “Low Light Level” (LLL) based on the phase and position of the moon. Some training was required to be conducted in HLL conditions or vice versa. After several years of launching training missions in to HLL nights with overcast skies, the practice of designating the light level and restricting training melted away. Nowadays it is incumbent on the aircrew to be more aware of the night environment and the limitations present due to the lighting and/or weather conditions present while operating in the dark.
Aside from limitations imposed by the environment, the night vision equipment itself has built-in restrictions beginning with the fact that aviators will begin seeing the night environment in shades of monochrome green with a limited field of view. The reduction in field of view from the eye’s 220 degrees to the NVG’s 40 degrees (still a significant increase over early goggles) is the one limitation that requires the most adaptation for the aviator. ASU’s training in the classroom and later, in the aircraft, exposes a new NVG pilot to these all-important physical and environmental factors. Recognition of the limits of the night vision goggle equipment and the restrictions posed by the operational environment are the keys to not only maximizing the performance of the NVGs, but they are the cornerstone of flight safety while using NVGs. There is no argument that night vision equipment is a huge safety improvement over unaided night flying, but those advantages can be negated if the flight crew does not recognize and respect the limitations of the gear and the world outside.
It had been over 10 years since I had last flown a Jet Ranger so I was not sure that ASU instructor pilot Kim Harris really wanted me to lift the bird into a hover between ASU’s hangar and that building right in front of the helicopter. “Are you sure you want me to do the takeoff?” I asked. “Yeah,” was the reply and I pulled the collective and tried to remember that the right side would be lifting first and the left pedal would need to be depressed a bit while pulling power opposite of the French helicopter I fly in my day job.
The Jet Ranger jumped off the ground and proceeded to do a bit of a dance over the spot as I immediately became frustrated in how far my Bell 206 flying skills had diminished after a decade of flying multi-engine helicopters with stability augmentation systems. Getting the dancing helicopter under control, we taxied out towards a clear area and took off into the darkness towards a darkened runway while Kim handled the radios for me.
Five minutes into the flight, I was still getting used to the control touch of the Bell and trying to re-learn the cockpit and instrument scan when Kim mentioned something about doing an autorotation under NVGs. “You want me to do what?” I wondered. I had never flown an autorotation on NVGs before and it had been almost four years since I had performed an autorotation outside of a simulator. The aircraft I fly in my day job has a digital engine control system that will not permit training autorotations.
“You better demonstrate one first,” I suggested to Kim as there was no way I was going to re-learn the Jet Ranger auto in one frantic descent to the runway. Kim shot an auto with the ease of parking a car and passed the controls back to me. “Here goes nothing,” I thought as I bottomed the collective and tried to do some sort of decent scan of the instruments in the unfamiliar cockpit as we descended toward the unlit runway. I don’t know how much of the auto was mine and how much was from Kim (most likely shadowing the flight controls), but I survived to write this article and the helicopter was able to continue our training flight following the maneuver.
The training flight was fun as we left the airport and headed up to the hills around Boise. It reminded me of my days at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island when we did some landings on unprepared surfaces in the mountains. The helicopter I fly now has no particle separators for the engines and landing off of a paved surface is one of the fastest ways to owe the maintenance crews a case of beer. Kim used the helicopter’s spotlight almost continuously during the flight; something I was definitely not used to. The flying I do for work is not tactical by any means, but I have found that the search light is not always beneficial in the salt air of the maritime environment when using NVGs. One advantage he showed me in the inland environment was the use of the searchlight as an aid to determine wind direction based on the relative speed and direction of the blowing dust and pollen while approaching an LZ and monitoring airspeed and speed over ground.
After over a decade of flying dual-piloted helicopters, I certainly have become comfortable when it comes to sharing cockpit and flying duties. When Kim gave me a simulated goggle failure, my instincts were to transition to an instrument scan and pass the controls to the other pilot. ASU instructors primarily train aviators who operate in the single-pilot environment and Kim patiently explained to me how to best handle the failure as if a seasoned former-Army aviator was not occupying the other seat. Kim then simulated a tube failure of the NVGs—something I had never tried or trained for in the military. This was surprisingly disorienting and certainly uncomfortable. I feel it would be worthwhile to incorporate this procedure into NVG ops at my unit. Another thing I look forward to trying “at home” is Kim’s use of a laser pointer to illuminate landing zones or points of interest while we flew around the hills in near pitch-black darkness. The laser easily reached out to fairly distant ridgelines and was a great training aid and time saver. Instead of trying to describe the location of an LZ—“the second saddle to the left of the right peak”—all Kim had to do was shine the laser on the spot and I headed towards it. After a decade of flying with NVGs, I was surprised that I was seeing some new things and learning new tricks from Kim as I got some nostalgic flight time wiggling the sticks of a nicely maintained Jet Ranger. I felt that the varied terrain around Boise was perfect for both urban and wilderness NVG operations. While much of the ground school was review for a military NVG operator, I felt like I took a lot of information home from both the classroom instruction and flight with ASU’s team of experienced instructors. —Story and photos by Todd Vorenkamp For the full story, visit www.rotorandwing.com
Aviation Specialties Unlimited, +1-208-426-8117, www.asu-nvg.com
The Colorado Heli-Ops training protocol includes the latest in FAA-driven industry changes. FITS, or Federal Aviation Administration Industry Training Standards, is charged with transitioning civil ab initio flight training from the traditionally taught, maneuver-based training to scenario-based training (SBT). With the advent of newer technologies that require general aviation pilots to process more information and to make better decisions, FITS training changes the primary focus of training new pilots from aircraft maneuvers, to include more emphasis on aeronautical decision making (ADM), risk management (RM), single pilot resource management (SRM) and learner centered grading Colorado HeliOps classroom (LCG). Michael Franz, an experienced pilot evaluator, mentor and member of the FAA’s Safety Team (FAAST), donated his time and knowledge to the staff at Colorado Heli-Ops. During his visit, Franz flew with and evaluated instructors one-on-one, giving them the ability to show the practical relevance of SBT in flight. Since FITS/SBT training is easily applied to the content of existing helicopter flight training, the staff at Heli-Ops has already begun its transition and facilitation of SBT and LCG. This will give its pilots in training (PTs) a comprehensive and efficient platform for their training, and is proven to produce safer and more aware pilots as technologies continue to advance. Colorado HeliOps, 1-303-466-4351, Coloradoheliops.com
CAE introduced the Eurocopter AS350B3 Level 7 flight training device (FTD) this year. This inaugural member of the company’s CAE 3000 line introduces artificial intelligence (AI) to mainstream civil helicopter simulation. AI is a standard capability for EMS and law enforcement, said Claude Lauzon, the company’s vice president of civil aviation services. Although a fixed-base simulator, you’d never know it once inside due to the excellent graphics and AI. The AI component increases the realism and unpredictability of the scene by allowing computer-controlled “people” on the ground to react as the helicopter lands. CAE will offer pilots training experiences where “people” react to them. Police pilots, for example, could “shoot and be shot at” in the simulation, he said. Figures may wait in the appropriate place or run toward or away from the helicopter. CAE uses an “AI.implant” software solution—integrated with a Tropos-6000 image generator—to populate the scenario with characters who can make “sophisticated, context-specific decisions and move in a realistic fashion within their environment,” he said. The AI.implant software was developed by Presagis, an independently operated CAE company.
CAE, 1-514-341-6780, www.cae.com
FlightSafety International announced that its Bell 407 advanced flight training device has been qualified to Level 7 by the Federal Aviation Administration. “An increasing number of helicopter operators are recognizing the value, efficiency and effectiveness of training using FlightSafety’s new Level 7 qualified flight training devices as opposed to training in the actual aircraft,” said George Ferito, director of business development, rotorcraft training. “Operators of smaller, turbine powered helicopters can now benefit from the same level of professional training we provide our fixed wing and larger helicopter customers as a result of these new devices.” The new Bell 407 flight training device is located at FlightSafety’s Learning Center in Lafayette, La. It will be used during initial type training, recurrent training, inadvertent IMC training, and a wide variety of mission-specific and scenario-based programs. The device is designed to replicate the unique operational requirements of EMS, offshore, law enforcement, electronic news gathering, paramilitary operations and others. The flight training device allows for emphasis on maneuvers and scenarios not safely or realistically suited for the aircraft. Among these are engine fires, loss of tail rotor effectiveness and starting problems such as hot or hung starts. The new Bell 407 flight training device is equipped with FlightSafety’s advanced Vital X visual system that provides the most realistic and comprehensive training scenarios available for the aircraft. Night vision goggle capability will be added in the near future. FAR Part 135 operators, with their POI’s (principle operations inspector) approval, can meet the requirements of initial and recurrent training and checks with only minimal actual aircraft time. FlightSafety International, 1-337-408-2900, www.flightsafety.com
TrainingPort.net is an online training provider offering aviation safety and operational training. TrainingPort.net has recently expanded to include helicopter-specific topics along with many wide-ranging topics such as fatigue management, cockpit resource management and weather. Current lessons from such highly respected subject matter experts as Terry Kelly (safety management systems), Mark Rosekind (fatigue management) and Karsten Shein (meteorology), among others. TrainingPort.net has limited each lesson to 15 minutes based on studies showing that is the optimal learning period. The company has also gone to great lengths to incorporate different teaching methods aimed at targeting multiple learning styles. They use audio, visuals, kinesthetic and other styles to present the material. “My role is to coordinate with the subject matter experts and build these techniques into the lessons with our writers and graphics people,” says Nik Chapman, TrainingPort’s content manager. The company says it reached out to focus groups early on to determine what was missing from online training and what was considered excellent content. “Users want a simple, easy to use interface with excellent content, not box checking,” Scott Macpherson, president. “Users also wanted a reliable way to keep records,” Macpherson says. “We are excited to add rotary wing content and maintenance content will be coming in February 2011.” Training can be customized to each company and their manuals. The system is easy to use and regularly e-mails those whose training is coming due. The system will alert the training manager on who is behind as well.
Trainingport.net, 1-866-948-7678, www.trainingport.net