Heli-Union’s Training Center Builds on New Technologies   

By By Thierry Dubois | November 1, 2013

Full-flight simulator at Heli-Union’s Training Center. 

Heli-Union is growing utilization of its Angouleme, France-based pilot training center thanks to the adoption of the latest tools available – a Thales/Eurocopter Dauphin full flight simulator (FFS) and Guimbal Cabri G2 light piston singles. In addition to answering Heli-Union’s in-house needs, the Heli-Union Training Center (HUTC) is increasingly looking for third-party customers for both its ab-initio and recurrent training programs. During a visit to HUTC in October, Rotor & Wing could see first-hand team efforts to reach and maintain student pilot proficiency, especially in offshore oil-and-gas operations.

With its offshore experience, Heli-Union a few years ago identified a niche in Eurocopter AS365 N3/N3+ Dauphin pilot training.


“The authorities were increasingly demanding in recurrent training and we wanted to offer our customers a consistent, high-level standard in oil-and-gas training,” Jean-Baptiste Olry, head of HUTC’s business development, told Rotor & Wing. In 2009, HUTC ordered the first FFS for the type and inaugurated it in 2012. Rotor & Wing understands there are only two in service around the world, the other one is based in Singapore.

HUTC’s FFS Level B/flight training device Level 3, under European regulations, also meets the FAA Part 60 Level 6 standard. “An FFS Level D is much more expensive but is only slightly more realistic and brings little more possibilities,” Olry said. The same recurrent training can be performed on an FFS Level B, he summarized. The only difference is for type rating, as the student will have to be trained an extra two hours on the real aircraft. Inside the simulator, a few differences appear – some flight instruments are not physically the same as those of the real aircraft, while buffeting vibration cannot be felt.

HUTC’s FFS offers a 210 x 70-degree field of view. It has six degrees of motion freedom. Actuators are electric with pneumatic assistance. This makes maintenance much easier, compared to previous-generation hydraulic technology. The simulation data package – algorithms that link pilot inputs to aircraft outputs – is Eurocopter’s original. The reaction time of HUTC’s FFS is 60 milliseconds, which is equivalent to a Level D.

Three cockpit configurations are available. They use either a conventional “steam gauge” instrument layout or more modern electronic displays; and one of two autopilots – three-axis or four-axis. On top of the baseline configuration, equipment has been added as part of the offshore standard – TCAS, EGPWS, AVAD (automatic voice alert device) and ADELT (automatically deployable emergency locator transmitter), Olry explained.

Guimbal Cabri in the Heli-Union training fleet.

The instructor can choose from two geographic databases. One, with a resolution in the order of a few feet, represents the southeast quarter of France. Then, the worldwide database has a 50-foot resolution. It allows simulating the offshore environment with oil rigs and vessels in day or night conditions. Particular attention was given to helideck realism, in line with CAP 437 rules, Olry said.

Simulated navigation aids are updated regularly to be consistent with the real world. Atmospheric conditions can be recreated, such as pressure, temperature, humidity and wind. Lighting conditions can be recreated, too – sun and moon, dusk and dawn, clouds etc.

While the benefits of simulators are well known to the airline industry, they are still relatively new for civil helicopter pilots, instructors and operating companies. First, to train for offshore landings, the student and his instructor do not have to spend time flying to the platform. In one click of a mouse at the instructor observation station, the helicopter and the crew find themselves in approach.

Some failures are never trained in flight, like an engine shutdown on a platform. In a simulator, such a failure can be introduced for the student to deal with it from A to Z, Olry said.

When simulating a ditching, the student will actually pull all the handles that release the liferafts, chief instructor Thierry Vermeersch added. The risk of accident or incident is nil. In addition, the simulator suppresses external constraints such as air traffic control, weather, pilot duty time etc. Moreover, a representative of an oil company can attend a simulator session to see how pilots of his transport service provider behave. Finally, one “flight” hour on a simulator is roughly 50 percent cheaper than one real flight hour on the same type.

Vermeersch is a highly experienced offshore pilot who regularly goes back in the field during the year. This is the key of Heli-Union’s approach to training – being as close as possible to real-life conditions. “Our flight documents are used in operation,” Olry emphasized. He added Heli-Union has reworked the platforms available in Thales’ software, for better realism and compliance to lighting standards.

Flight navigation procedure trainer (FNPT) at the Heli-Union
Training Center in France.

HUTC instructors are consistently endeavoring to improve their training methods. Accident and incident reports inspire training scenarios, Vermeersch said. The Air France 447 crash in 2009 prompted him to have his students training for pitot airspeed probe icing. Sharing experience is valued – a student pilot in recurrent training can describe a particular manner to apply a procedure at his company. This can lead the chief instructor to reconsider his own habits.

When Rotor & Wing visited HUTC, a debate was going on about filming student pilots with a small camera installed inside the simulator. The hoped-for teaching benefit was when a student pilot challenges the instructor. Watching the video enables the instructor to clearly show why he deemed the performance substandard. A difficulty was seen, however, in the time to be spent finding the relevant segments in a long video.

The FFS will operate for some 1,700 hours this year, which translates into 250 student pilots. Olry is aiming for 2,000 hours in 2014. Of these, Heli-Union’s in-house needs account for a constant 1,000 hours.

FFS customers, mainly from overseas, include oil-and-gas, emergency medical service and corporate operators. Several foreign air forces have chosen HUTC for its ab-initio program, which brings students with zero flight time experience to fully qualified IFR pilots, Olry said

What about the bottom line of using a simulator, versus real aircraft, for recurrent training? As an operator, Heli-Union is already seeing a difference. The chief pilot has noticed his Dauphin crews have improved their piloting skills since they have begun using the simulator, according to Olry.

The FFS is HUTC’s flagship but is not the company’s only tool at Angouleme Cognac airport. Another one is an AS365N Dauphin, now undergoing a cockpit upgrade. In light singles, a Schweizer 300 is still flying but will soon be phased out. Two Cabri G2s are replacing it. The first one was delivered in February and the second one in September. They are mainly used for ab-initio training.

Jean-Baptiste Olry, head of HUTC’s business development,
with a Cabri.

Olry explained that the type was chosen against the ubiquitous Robinson R22/R44 for its easier autorotation procedure, crashworthiness and design philosophy. With its shrouded tailrotor and modern cockpit, it is closer to the helicopter types the students will fly eventually, he said. According to Guimbal’s numbers, the higher acquisition cost will be recouped in a few years, thanks to much cheaper maintenance.

Last, but not least, is the flight navigation procedure trainer (FNPT II). Although not a moving device, it is valuable for basic helicopter handling and navigation (including IFR) learning. Based on a Eurocopter AS355 N Ecureuil light twin, HUTC’s FNPT II offers a 180° x 45° field of view.

In 2012, HUTC trained 392 student pilots, for a combined 2,879 hours.

Heli-Union Key FactsThe Heli-Union Training Center, founded in 2002, is a subsidiary of Heli-Union. The parent company is an offshore oil-and-gas transport specialist with operations in Africa, Asia-Pacific and South America. The fleet is made of 35 helicopters – Eurocopter AS365N/N3 Dauphins, AS332 L1 and EC225 Super Pumas, EC145s, and Sikorsky S-76C++s. It will be one of the first operators of the soon-to-be-certified Eurocopter EC175, with an order for four. Héli-Union flies about 17,000 hours per year.

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