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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sim Report: ‘Flying’ the CAE 3000 Series Sikorsky S-76C++ Full-Motion Trainer

CAE’s Series 3000 Sikorsky S-76C++ simulator approaches a virtual oil rig in preparation for landing. CAE

Canada-based simulator provider CAE has been in the business of developing simulation training since 1947. Billed as the world’s largest supplier of helicopter synthetic training devices, CAE has delivered more than 120 of them, modeling a variety of helicopters from nine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in both the civil and military markets. In mid-July, CAE hosted Rotor & Wing at company headquarters in Montreal for the unveiling of the first full-motion 3000 Series helicopter flight and mission simulator. The simulator models the Sikorsky S-76C++, and was scheduled for shipping to Zhuhai Flight Training Center in China by the end of July.

During the event, Philippe Perey, senior director of global business development and strategic initiatives at CAE explained, “The 3000 Series has been optimized for civil helicopter training needs, by bringing the highest fidelity simulation to the market at the lowest cost to operators.” The 3000 Series might be considered mid-level when placed in line with CAE’s full spectrum of training devices, yet still displays the higher fidelity required of U.S. FAA and European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) Level D certification. In researching the civil helicopter market requirements, CAE noted that statistically, almost 25 percent of all civil helicopter accidents occur during training. Traditionally, simulation training has largely focused on cockpit procedural training. In retrospect, CAE felt that a shift from task-based to mission-based scenario modeling was required. The company’s goals have shifted to focus on reducing the helicopter accident rate through realistic simulation training in the environment and scenarios that helicopter operations routinely occur. For this to be effective, the visuals had to be more immersive, the flight modeling more accurate, and the databases more expansive.

The 3000 series features a 210-degree horizontal by 80-degree vertical view for training. CAE
The 3000 Series simulators accomplish this by combining the robust CAE “Tropos 6000” visual image generating system with commercially-available off-the-shelf projectors and the latest video processors found in today’s high-end gaming platforms for a low-cost solution. However, exceptional visuals alone do not make an effective simulation. According to Alberto Costa, vice president of global business development, CAE was the first to use “blade element theory” when modeling rotor aerodynamics in the 1980s, and the company continues to employ it today, albeit with the help of more powerful processors. Blade element modeling is a mathematical process of breaking up a rotor blade into small pieces, calculating the aerodynamic forces on each piece, then adding up all those pieces, providing a very accurate flight model. Combining this with advanced modeling of wind dynamics over mountains, turbulence around structures and vessels, and artificially intelligent vehicle and personnel movements results in more realistic scenario-based training. This technology is already present in all of CAE’s fixed-base 3000 Series helicopter flight training devices (FTDs), however I was anxious to find out how the addition of motion (making it a full flight simulator, or FFS) would affect the experience.

Into the Cockpit

Entering the simulator room, the larger screen real estate necessary for the helicopter visuals was apparent from outside the sim by its tall globe-shape. The 3000 Series boasts a 210-degree horizontal by 80-degree vertical field of view. Marc St-Hilaire, CAE’s vice president of technology and innovation, explained that eight projectors are used to display the image directly on the screen, providing high-resolution imagery throughout the entire field of view.

Also noted was the absence of any hydraulic-based motion system or associated plumbing. Instead, electro-mechanical actuators provide more accurate roll and pitch cueing, while at the same time are less maintenance intensive, more environmentally friendly, and much more energy-efficient than hydraulics, which according to St-Hilaire, are only five percent efficient.

A closer look at the CAE Series 3000 instrument panel.

Strapping into the pilot’s seat of the highly representative S-76 cockpit, I was immediately struck by the closeness of the screen to the cockpit windows, providing an immersive, wraparound view as advertised. With Barry Silver, CAE simulator validation pilot in the left seat, we started out in front of the windsock at Lake Charles Regional Airport. I performed a rolling takeoff, as I was a bit apprehensive to pick it straight up into a hover—one of the most difficult regimes of flight to model. Silver immediately suggested I bleed the airspeed down to zero and see how it felt. It may have been a combination of good actual aircraft handling qualities, simulation modeling, or both, but the machine quickly felt manageable, providing me with only a little passing feeling of vertigo—a usual side effect of the motion effects not matching up with the visuals in the highly-complicated aerodynamic realm of hover flight.

After a couple of coordination-building hover turns around the windsock, we flew some approaches to the Wall Street helipad in New York City, and then through some quick keystrokes, flew a few more to an oil rig in the Gulf. The graphic detail increased noticeably as we approached to land, right down to the rust stains on the New York pier, and the sloshing of the ocean on the legs of the oil rig. The wraparound view allowed me to use all the visual cues I would in actual flight, even turning my head down and to the right for vertical reference as I made a steep approach. The vibratory and aural cues were on point as I transitioned the airspeed range to hover and landing. Other features that were demoed included moving cranes and changing sea states at the oil rig, a scene medevac complete with personnel on the ground reacting to the landing aircraft, and the rescue of survivors from a life raft.

For any simulation to provide quality training, there must be a certain “suspension of disbelief” in order to achieve maximum impact. For this to happen, the pilot can’t become focused on how much they must fight the machine to actually fly it.

At a quick glance, CAE’s 3000 Series S-76C++ Full Flight Simulator seems to accomplish this with a well-harmonized, feature-rich, economical package. The next step in safer flying through safer training seems to have arrived.

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