Frasca’s TruFlite R44 FTD Packs High-Fidelity Simulation into Entry-Level Device

By By Joe Ambrogne, Technical Editor | April 8, 2015
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At HAI Heli-Expo 2015 in Orlando, Fla., Frasca International showcased its new TruFlite R44 Flight Training Device (FTD). Incorporating many features from Frasca’s higher-end Full Flight Simulators (FFS), the TruFlite is marketed as a much more realistic training experience than other FTDs on the market today. Rotor & Wing was invited to test out the FTD and talk to Frasca representatives about how and why they developed the TruFlite’s features.

“What we discovered last year at HAI was that many of our customers were asking for a higher-fidelity device with which they could teach flight maneuvers,” said President & CEO John Frasca. “So we took that to heart and pulled down a lot of the systems from our full flight simulator into an R44 FTD.” To achieve the TruFlite’s high level of realism, Frasca gathered performance data

To develop its high-fidelity simulator, Frasca used special equipment to gather performance data from a Robinson R44
in flight.
Photo courtesy of Frasca International

from actual R44s in flight. “We built our own data recorder,” said Frasca. “So we attach things like lasers to measure altitude; we attach gyros and accelerometers to the aircraft, and then we fly all the precise maneuvers that the FAA tells us to do, and then the engineers take that back and make sure the simulator matches.”

At the company’s booth at Heli-Expo, Frasca’s Randy Gawenda described the equipment used to gather flight data: “You’ve got a sensor probe out in the front, and there’s a radar altimeter on the bottom, and a data bus collection package in the back as well. So it’s recording every parameter—and there are over 400 different parameters—simultaneously. And we record the entire flight from beginning to end.”

While solid data are essential to designing a good simulator, the trick is making a pilot’s experience feel real. The most obvious way Frasca achieves this realism is through its TruVision system—a curving computer display providing a seamless 180-degree field of view uninterrupted by screen dividers. The company believes this is essential for training pilots in maneuvers such as hovering. “If you are looking at a point, and that point all of a sudden goes into a seam in the LCD or something like that, you lose your reference,” Gawenda said. The 180-degree screen has another benefit. During our flight test, we flew downwind on a virtual traffic pattern. As we got ready to turn to the base leg, seeing the runway out of the corner of our eyes felt eerily similar to the real thing.

The next two features are incorporated into the FTD’s flight controls. First, an electronic control loading system called TruFeel simulates the slight pressure felt by the pilot as he manipulates the controls. “It actually gives a force feedback to the pilot so the controls feel more realistic, instead of a simple spring column, which is very light and has no resistance to it,” said Gawenda.

Second, and far more useful, is SimAssist, which Gawenda equates to an adaptive stability augmentation system (SAS). When active, the software compares a new student pilot’s performance on a given maneuver to the ideal state, physically assists a struggling pilot in stabilizing the controls, and displays a flashing number on the instrument panel indicating to that pilot exactly when and how much it is helping out. “Starting off, [the student] may be up in the eight or nine scale range, and the technology is helping him develop the muscle memory to control the aircraft,” said Gawenda. “As he gets better, it’s going to start helping him less and less, so it may come down to, say, a level two or three.”

“It’s kind of like a flight instructor fighting you,” said Frasca. But while a flight instructor might subtly jump in to stabilize an oscillating aircraft without the student even realizing, SimAssist makes it instantly clear when and how much it is taking over.

Finally, TruFlite’s instructor station can track and display visuals depicting the student’s flight, and these can be downloaded onto a USB drive or printed out for a post-flight analysis.

Frasca’s TruFlite R44 FTD comes with a starting price of around $350,000, and rates as both an FAA Level 5 FTD—though the company says it can be qualified up to Level 7—and as an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD), making it accessible to both Part 61 and Part 141 flight schools. Its software and physical components can be reconfigured to simulate a Robinson R22, or a Sikorsky S300. Frasca provides customers with maintenance and operational training, and regular software updates. In the future, the company hopes to add an R66 configuration, and incorporate a motion cuing platform to further advance it towards the level of a true FFS. 

Related: Simulator News

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