Military, Training

Rotorcraft Report: Helisim Cuts Ribbon for NH90 Simulator

By Staff Writer | December 1, 2009
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Military | Simulators

Marignane, France-based training services provider Helisim inaugurated a full flight mission simulator for the NH90 military transport helicopter on September 23. The new Level-C device features a highly realistic visual database. It represents a tactical transport (TTH) version, although trainees could be instructed for flights in other NH90 versions, such as the naval NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH).

French Army and Navy pilots, who are to receive the first NH90s in 2010, are scheduled to start training late this year. The new simulator, which began operating on September 14 with the Australian Army, had been ready since July 31, Helisim CEO Guy Dabadie said. HTMI—Helicopter Training Media Intl, a Thales-CAE 50-50 joint venture—ordered the NH90 simulator in July 2007. Under a private finance initiative, two identical NH90 flight simulators are available in Bückeburg, Germany for the needs of the German forces. The device is mounted on hydraulic actuators that give it six degrees of freedom. Vibrations are simulated, too.


Equipment manufacturer Thales is one of the main two shareholders in Helisim, at 45 percent, on par with Eurocopter. Défense Conseil Intl (DCI), a French state-owned company active in military training, holds the remaining 10 percent, among other businesses. The Thales visual database uses satellite images. Pilots training for nap-of-the-earth flights can see details in five-inch resolution in urban areas. When flying for training, French NH90 pilots will often fly around their bases in Lanvéoc-Poulmic, Hyères and Le Luc. Therefore, the visual databases cover Brittany and southeast France, explained Pascal Cléré, managing director for Thales’ simulation business in France. “Such a database is trickier than it is for a fixed-wing aircraft, as we have to simulate flying at 100 feet,” he stressed.

The simulator’s display is projected rather than collimated. The resulting parallax limits the device to the Level C category (the highest being Level D). This is for a good reason—projection here allows for an immense field of view. The NH90 simulator features angles of 240 horizontally and 85 vertically. The latter angle breaks down into 30 upward and 55 downward. This is compared to the EC225 Level D simulator’s horizontal 200 and vertical 60.

Helisim has decided to fit, from next June, the new NH90 visual database to all its full flight simulators. This is a response to increased competition in the offshore market segment, where new Super Puma L2, EC225 and AS365 N3 Dauphin are coming, Dabadie said. In addition to the NH90, Helisim operates Super Puma L1 and L2, EC225, AS365 N2 Dauphin/Panther and EC155 simulators.

Weather conditions, special effects and battlefield threats are generated from a workstation located outside the NH90 simulator. The new simulator began operating in September.

According to Dabadie, the “flight loops” also contribute to the high degree of realism. This is the way the helicopter’s attitude is linked to flight control inputs. “In the NH90 simulator, flight loops come from real flight test data,” Dabadie emphasized. The NH90 has fly-by-wire controls.

Weather conditions, special effects and battlefield threats are generated from a workstation located outside the simulator. Missions such as formation flight, SAR and combat can be flown. “Computer-generated forces” can include various targets, other helicopters and tanks. The simulator can work in network with other helicopter or even tank simulators. Inside the simulator, malfunctions can be simulated from two positions. With one trainee only, the instructor can trigger a failure from the left seat. If he is training a two-person crew, he can trigger it from a seat behind the crew.

The cockpit is compatible with night vision goggles (NVGs) and helmet-mounted sight displays, which show infrared images (coming from the goggles or a FLIR pod) and flight symbology. According to Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland (the main two stakeholders in the NH90 program) were deeply involved in the design of the simulator. As a result, pilots can experience “a nice set of malfunctions they must train [for],” Bertling said. He added that operating the NH90 is challenging for most users, as they are leapfrogging two or three helicopter generations.

Helisim did not provide the cost of a simulator flight hour. However, for such a complex aircraft, the interest is clear. “The ratio is 3:1 between the cost of a flight hour and that of simulated hour,” Dabadie said.

The company has provided more than 12,000 flight hours of training over the past 12 months to a total of 2,400 pilots, which corresponds to more than 120 different customers. According to Thales’ Cléré, Helisim’s simulators enjoy a 99-percent availability. Helisim shareholders are now closely looking at the under-development joint training center (Centre de formation inter armées, CFIA) in Hyères and Le Luc. The idea is to have all pilots and maintenance technicians following the same courses, whether they are in the Navy or Army. One NH90 prototype that is no longer flying could be used for maintenance instruction.

“Our idea has been to anticipate the needs from the French forces,” Jean-Louis Rotrubin, DCI’s CEO, explained. Helisim already has contracts for some training hours with the French state. They will start in November and February for the Army and the Navy, respectively. But Rotrubin foresees more needs. “We want to help the French forces build a fully fledged training center in Le Luc,” he said. The NH90 simulator might even move there.

AgustaWestland and Eurocopter have agreed on guidelines for training. AW’s Rotorsim training center in Sesto Calende, Italy is responsible for the NFH version. Meanwhile, Helisim is in charge of the TTH version. This principle, however, is overcome by nationalities. French Navy pilots train in France and Italian Army crews train in Italy. —By Thierry Dubois

A Protracted Helicopter Program

Dominique Maudet, Eurocopter’s director of governmental programs, gave Rotor & Wing an update on the protracted 11-metric-ton-class (20,000-lb) NH90 program. So far, 34 NH90 TTHs have been delivered since 2006 to five customer countries—Australia, Finland, Germany, Italy and Sweden. The NFH version is said to be “back on track.” It is five years late, with overweight a problem mostly solved. The Step-A NFH will be delivered to Netherlands and France early in 2010. Available from 2011, the Step-B standard will be retrofitted on the helicopters, mainly through a software upgrade. Therefore, the sonar and radar will be operational. The French Navy is in a dire need of the NH90, since its search-and-rescue capability relies on 45-year-old Super Frelons. Asked whether the Thales-made radar will meet the stringent requirement of SAR missions, including spotting a man’s head in rough seas, Maudet answered that the customer has accepted the performance of the version to be delivered. An upgrade may be available after a few years, he added.

Helisim CEO Hands Over Reins

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Helisim CEO Guy Dabadie (left) retired at the end of September and his replacement is Alain Salendre. Dabadie, formerly a chief test pilot with Eurocopter, has flown 7,000 test hours and was at the controls for the first flight of the NH90 in 1995. Salendre had been Helisim’s military advisor for governmental programs, previously managing the French-German Training Academy in Le Luc, France, where German and French pilots train to fly the Tiger combat helicopter.

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