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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Helicopter Training: New Simulators: Making It Real

Eurocopter is adding training capabilities in the United States to respond to long-term market needs and shorter-term opportunities.

In the latter category, the manufacturer’s American Eurocopter unit in Grand Prairie, Texas is developing a turbine-transition course targeted at the hundreds of flight instructors thrown out of work by the February shutdown of Silver State Helicopters and its network of training centers throughout the United States.

American Eurocopter also has expanded its training center in Grand Prairie and is readying its first simulator, for the EC135, for certification and use. The expanded center includes a hangar for maintenance training and is scheduled to add a simulator for the AS350 later.

Those steps are part of a long-range plan that likely will include a training center elsewhere in the United States targeted at supporting offshore operators in the Gulf of Mexico. The expansion on the civil front comes as American Eurocopter also is spooling up training of U.S. Army pilots on the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, which is based on the EC145. American Eurocopter is the training specialist on the EADS North America-led contractor team that won that 352-aircraft order, valued at $3 billion, in 2006.

The turbine-transition course is aimed at filling a void left by Silver State’s shutdown.

"From a training point of view, it’s going to leave a big hole in the ability of the market to respond to the needs for helicopter pilots," Paul Osterman, American Eurocopter training center’s manager of simulation and standardization, said. Silver State "was a source for a lot of ab initio training in helicopters in the United States. To close its doors up and move away that quickly is going to make it difficult and, I think, much more expensive for younger pilots to come into this line of work.

"The market’s going to have to respond somehow" to fill that hole, said Osterman, who is also chief pilot of American Eurocopter’s FAR Part 141 school, which conducts night-vision goggle and unaided urban night emergency training.

Eurocopter’s response is the new turbine-transition course, which offers factory training in the AS350 to pilots with 500-1,000 hr of piston flight time.

"We’ve taken our standard 350 course and added an hour to it and added some more ground [school] that really makes it an appropriate course for a CFI or a guy looking for that next career jump," said Tim McAdams, the training center’s marketing and sales manager. [McAdams formerly authored the Safety Watch column for Rotor & Wing.]

A common next step for pilots in that group, which would include many former Silver State instructors, would be a job flying air tours in the Grand Canyon area or Hawaii. The AS350 is prominent in those markets.

"So if you want to move your resumé to the top of the pile," McAdams said, "you come here and take our course for the turbine transition, in which you also get an AS350 factory school. You’re talking a $10,000 investment that qualifies you for a job that may pay you $15,000 or $20,000 more a year."

McAdams said American Eurocopter has qualified with Sallie Mae, the leading U.S. provider of student loans, for financing for that course, which the company plans to launch soon.

The new training center has more than 20,000 sq ft, including two simulator bays and the maintenance training hangar (which has EC120 and AS350 trainers).

One of the simulator bays is occupied by a full-flight simulator for the EC135. Osterman, when we spoke in early March, was overseeing major upgrades of the simulator to increase its reliability. He expected to begin the process of accepting the simulator and fine-tuning its operation with the manufacturers by mid-March.

Eurocopter France is providing flight data on the EC135 for the simulator, which is built by Indra of Madrid. CAE in Germany is providing the avionics for the sim.

Indra also has provided the EC135 simulator that Eurocopter has installed at its training center in Donauworth, Germany. The simulators include a six-degree-of-freedom motion system, an instructor station, simulation of all systems and optional equipment, avionics, and a visual system with a 160X80-deg field of view that can depict daylight, dusk, and night scenes. The vertical field of view includes a full chin-window view.

If the acceptance process runs according to schedule, Osterman said, he should be able to get a ready-for-use rating on the simulator this month and start qualifying it for FAA certification.

Eurocopter is seeking a Level B full-flight simulator certification for the unit, which Osterman said he hopes to have fully operational by August. He also plans to use the device for the EC145. Because of differences between the EC135 and 145, he said, the unit would serve as a Level 4 flight training device for the 145. "But it will have lots of additional features, of course," compared to a standard Level 4 flight training device.

Tied to the simulator effort, the center at Grand Prairie is pursuing certification as an FAR Part 142 flight school.

Plans call for the center to have an AS350 simulator installed by late 2009, he said. It would be an AS350B3 and convertible to training for the B2 version.

Longer-term plans call for installation of an EC225 full-flight simulator, which would be one of three Eurocopter is looking to acquire. It remains to be seen where in the United States the EC225 sim would be installed, with the strong possibility that it would go to a new site closer to Gulf of Mexico offshore operations.

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