Products, Training

Essential Equipment: FTDs and Heliport Lighting  

By By Rick Adams | April 1, 2014
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CAE 3000 Series. Photo courtesy of CAE

After a long lean period when high-end Level D full-flight simulators were out of reach of most operators’ budgets and low-end “broomstick and a bucket” limited-capability flight training devices seemed the norm, helicopter training equipment is now every bit as sophisticated as that used for airline pilot training, if not moreso, particularly the new visual systems and motion/vibration platforms.

The two dominant helicopter training companies, both in terms of simulator manufacturing and independent training centers, are FlightSafety International and CAE. They’re not the only game in town, however.


The latest enhancements to FlightSafety’s current helicopter simulators include the Vital 1100 visual image generation system with “an increased level of fidelity, particularly in near-ground areas with enhanced effects such as rotor wash and wave actions,” according to Steve Phillips, vice president of communications.

To display the new high-resolution graphics, which FlightSafety says are five times as powerful as the previous generation, the company has opted for a glass mirror known as Crewview.

At 310 degrees, it’s the widest horizontal field-of-view on the market. “The expanded field of view eliminates edge distortions common in legacy soft-film [mylar] display systems.

This allows pilots to train with virtually the same out-the-window view in the simulator as the helicopter,” Phillips says.

In addition to Level D full-flight simulators, FlightSafety produces Matrix flight training devices, computer-based training, distance-learning, and the gamut of solutions for a turnkey solution.

“CAE’s 3000 Series full-flight simulator product was designed specifically for the helicopter market with large, direct projection domes and all-electric cueing,” says Peter Cobb, global operations leader for helicopter training. “The use of common motion, vibration, and visual systems across the range of civil helicopters we simulate, along with the possibility of using multiple helicopter cockpits using just one platform, helps keep both acquisition and operating costs down.”

CAE’s visual display is a direct-view dome, 10 feet in diameter for small and mid-size helicopters and 12 feet for larger aircraft. The company launched its “third-generation” image system, Tropos-6000, in 2011. CAE’s Simfinity line of flat-panel displays complements and uses much the same software as the Level D FFS.

High-End Players

Other manufacturers capable of producing high-end Level D and Level B full-motion simulators include Indra (Spain), Thales (France), and Frasca (U.S.).

Indra is one of the top technology companies based in Europe, operating in more than 120 countries and with over 40,000 employees. They leverage their work in the defense sector (as do Flightsafety, CAE, Thales, and others) into the civil helicopter training business. Indra has been most closely associated with Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter), producing FFSs for the AS350, EC225, and EC175 in recent years.

Thales has three training center projects in the works: with SAF in Albertville in France’s Alps, in Norway with an undisclosed partner, and an FFS in China with a “local partner.” Spokesperson Joshua Valanzuolo notes that Thales offers comprehensive training solutions, such as “full mission preparation and rehearsal across many areas, including oil and gas, search-and-rescue, firefighting, mountain flying, night flying, and urban security.”

Frasca, which sometimes gets tagged with a “low-end” label for having produced thousands of desktop and flight training devices, also has a range of capabilities up to Level D. Randy Gawenda points out that the central Illinois, family-run company built its first helicopter simulation device more than 40 years ago. One rare capability: “We can plan and implement our own flight test program to design, deliver, and qualify a very highly accurate simulator.”

Rockwell Collins produces one of the industry’s leading image generators, the EP-8000, widely used in commercial aviation training, and they have created military helicopter flight simulators; however, they do not seem to be pursing the civil helicopter simulator space at this time.

Special Purpose

FlyIt, a small American company (Carlsbad, Calif.) has shipped over 120 Professional Helicopter Simulators (PHS) to 26 countries, focusing on light helicopters such as the AS350 B2 and Bell 407. Compared to several million dollars for a Level D device, their generic aviation training device (ATD) costs as low as $150,000 and a cockpit-specific model still under a million. Chairman Terry Simpkins claims FlyIt’s PHS “is the only ATD ever authorized for 7.5 hours of hover training” and that “the student is able to hover the real helicopter in 1.5 to 2 hours.”

Environmental Tectonics Corporation (ETC) of Southampton, Pa., offers computer-based systems, basic, and procedural trainers, but is perhaps best known for spatial disorientation devices and scenarios, “enabling aircrew to experience a full range of motioned-based SD illusions.”

Another name you’ll occasionally see on a bidders’ list is Cuesim (Oakley, UK). They’ve produced a mix of trainers for military and civil customers, mostly Level A, B, and Level 3 multi-crew coordination devices.



Heliport and Portable Lighting

Avlite helipad lighting. Courtesy of Avlite

The drive to ensure that safety remains uppermost in the minds of helicopter operators becomes ever more challenging when the industry continues to expand into relatively new international market sectors. When operators are involved in challenging missions where their capabilities are often pushed towards extremes, particularly in those new and/or developing markets, safety practices reach out beyond the actual aircraft and many of the new integrated systems such as HUMS and on-board cameras.

There is a recognized steady growth around the world in the HEMS market. This is now spreading beyond traditional operators into countries with relatively modest services or, in fact, those wishing to launch their first HEMS operations. One of the major problems in such countries is often the lack of infrastructure and it particular helicopter landing zones away from recognized airfields. One of the biggest dangers to any HEMS operator is landing a helicopter in an unfamiliar location, especially away from helipads in the case of medical emergency crews and those specializing in air rescue. This also applies to certain industry sectors, such as mining, where locations are often remote and away from ambient lighting. As Fraser MacKay, director FEC Heliports Worldwide, explains: “Helipads are small and compact and can be surrounded by potential obstacles. It is here that good lighting in particular can be effective, particularly flashing beacons that can attract the pilot’s attention from a distance.”

Portable systems can now provide a quick and effective solution, particularly for temporary landing zones. FEC Heliports has developed its own portable system that can be deployed from a briefcase. There are up to eight lights in a case and MacKay says that two cases would provide sufficient units for any emergency helipad. Each light features white, green and blue lights together with an infrared (IR) capability. Both visible and IR lighting can be switched on at the same time. “The use of NVG seems to be increasing leading to a greater demand for NVG visible lights,” MacKay said.

Other portable lighting systems include that from Aerolighting Switzerland. It comprises six LED omnidirectional lights that are powered by built-in batteries. There is an option of 14-hour operation with 100 percent intensity or a longer duration of 40 hours with 30 percent intensity. Although military use of NVGs is common among leading air forces around the world, use in the civil community is still patchy. MacKay has noticed that in the UK there is an increasing need for HEMS operators to fly at night. He said that this would have an effect on the need for equipment and training for aircrew and ground support.

Australia-based Avlite has developed products for both the military and commercial markets. Standard incandescent lighting is visible to NVG wearers though the heat that they emit, but any location that has changed to LED lighting will see a problem due to the lack of heat in these lights. “LED lighting produces no significant heat signature and emits colored light at a single wavelength which is typically outside the NVG reception range,” explains Tara Steward, head of global sales at Avlite. LED lighting not only reduces power consumption against that of incandescent lamps, it also has a much longer lifespan.

“Reduced power requirements have led to the adoption of renewable energy alternatives,” states Stewart, adding that solar power is available for both permanent and portable systems, although there are a range of power options.

One of the most difficult aspects of owning a heliport is to keep abreast of regulatory developments.

With manufacturers commonly having to be aware of any changes, says Stewart, lighting OEMs will ensure that their customers retain product compliance and will ensure that installations that feature their product are kept up to the regulatory standard set by bodies such as ICAO or FAA.

In June last year, RACQ Careflight Rescue opened a helipad landing site (HLS) at Toowoomba in southern Queensland. The helipad’s construction included Avlite’s solar powered flood lights (white light with an adjustable head to vary the lighting across the helipad when needed) and bordered by ICAO compliant green solar powered perimeter lights.

Ashley van de Velde, CEO CareFlight Group Queensland, stated that the lighting would further enhance the safety of the HEMS operation, which would lead to improved service delivery to the local community.

According to MacKay, products such as FEC’s digital Remote Lighting Controller (RLC) integrate traditional VHF PCL with SMS control and monitoring. More remote heliports may be operated on an “on demand” basis, adds Stewart. Avlite’s solar heliport lighting system offers wireless monitoring of individual fixtures and other elements such as Heliport Approach Path Indicators (HAPI) and Windcones. But floodlights around a helipad can have their downside, particularly on a small helipad: “There is growing recognition that there are sometimes conflicting requirements for pilot oriented verses passenger/ground staff lighting – floodlights to help the latter can blind the former.” So planning illumination for any helipad needs careful consideration.


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