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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Low-Cost Options

James Careless

As operators seek better, more detailed training, manufacturers are aiming to field cost-effective tools to help them do that.

IF MONEY WERE NO ISSUE IN HELICOPTER TRAINING, student pilots would be thoroughly trained in full-motion simulators. They would be run through every possible flight scenario before being sent off to a real aircraft.

But money is an issue, a big one. With top-end full-motion simulators costing $20-25 million, there's no way they could be used for general training (especially when some helicopters go for $3 million or less). This is why helicopter operators are always looking for low-cost aids that can support effective training in most aspects of flight.

Mindful of this problem--and this opportunity--many companies are now selling budget-priced helicopter simulation products. Ranging from PC-based desktop setups to actual simulators with cost-effective motion control, these products help trainees get the knowledge they need for flying the real thing at a price operators can afford.

To get a sense of what's available and for what price, Rotor & Wing contacted vendors of these products. Here's a rundown:

Atlantis Systems International
One of full-motion simulation's biggest cost components is the creation of realistic visual displays for the student to "see" through his windows. Without convincing visuals that not only wrap around but change accurately in reaction to the student's inputs, effective training won't take place.

To provide this wraparound world cost-effectively, Atlantis Systems International (www.atlantissi.com) is using a virtual-reality, head-mounted display in its Helicopter Vocational Training device. The device also uses a regular flight chair with six-degree-of-freedom motion that responds to the pilot control inputs. In combination, the display and chair gives the student a realistic flying experience that is enhanced because the computer graphics in the display are extremely high resolution.

Night-vision goggles mode is simulated by restricting the field of view of the head-mounted display. While a typical field of view in the display is 60 deg., it is trimmed to 40 deg. for NVG modes, while also providing appropriate NVG imagery via the image generator.

The Helicopter Vocational Training is descended from a Canadian military helicopter trainer created by the country's Defense Research and Development Canada agency. Its goal was to give students the most realistic training possible for landing Canada's aging Sea Kings on heaving ship decks. With its navy roots, the device is suited for training offshore pilots. However, the software selection is broad enough to cover mountain and forestry operations, special ops, law enforcement, firefighting and EMS. The system costs $3-6 million, according to the company, depending on the number and type of scenarios and aircraft models supported. It can be configured for the Bell 212/412/Jet Ranger series, Eurocopters, the Sea King and Sikorsky H-92, and the AgustaWestland EH101.

cueSim
CueSim (www.cuesim.com) bills its Helicopter Flight Training Device (FTD) as the world's first Level 3 device specifically designed to meet the new JAR-STD 2H Levels 2 and 3 and multi-crew coordination (MCC) standards. The FTD can be supplied with a high-bandwidth six-degree-of-freedom electric motion system or as a fixed base device, with electric active control loading system, electric seat shaker, high-fidelity aircraft model and fully representative modelling of all relevant aircraft systems as standard.

The instrument and sensor displays use standard LCD displays with bezel overlays to ensures that any aircraft can be easily replicated, according to the company. Immersion is guaranteed with the use of a multiple-channel, projected direct-view visual display provided by high-resolution digital projectors and powered by PC-based image generation.The visual display has full support for collisions, ground effects, weather, time of day and lighting effects.

The cueSim FTD is suitable for systems management, recurrent training, instrument rating and revalidation and renewal, recency, crew-resource management training, line-oriented flight training, MCC training, and type training and checking. The device can be dual qualified to Flight Navigation and Procedures Trainer Levels 2 and 3 and MCC to achieve full credits for these devices also.

CueSim designed and built a EC135 FTD with six-degree-of-freedom electric motion for Bond Air Services that has recently been accredited with Level 3 certification.

Environmental Tectonics
Environmental Tectonics Corp. (www.etcusa.com) offers a wide range of rotary- and fixed-wing trainers, with an equally wide spread of capabilities and prices. "We make everything from simple flight training devices (FTDs) to full-motion simulators," said Glenn King; ETC USA's aircrew training systems applications manager. "We try to provide a full range of products to suit the budget and training needs of every flight school."

For cost-conscious trainers, the company's Protrainer PCATD Helicopter Flight Trainer is a good balance between function and price ($10,000-28,500, depending on options). The Protrainer combines a realistic flight seat, flight controls, and working avionics controls with a number of display options--single or multiple flat displays or an immersive dome--to create a convincing flight environment. It is designed to portray numerous weather conditions, mechanical malfunctions, and failures. The Protrainer is configured to train for the Schweizer 300. King said other configurations will be available soon.

For up to $1 million dollars, schools can acquire Environmental Tectonic's Heloflight 4+2 full-motion simulator. Inside it is a realistic cockpit with three LCD panels that provide a wide field of view, convincing motion, and custom instrument panels. Outside, it is an enclosed simulator riding atop a motorized pedestal base with 4+2 axis of motion: pitch, roll, yaw, and heave, with sway being coupled to roll and surge coupled to pitch. The Heloflight is available in single- or double-seat configurations; providing a realistic full-motion experience at an affordable price.

Fidelity Flight Simulation
Fidelity Flight Simulation's (www.fidelityflight.com) answer to expensive full-motion trainers is one that's not expensive, relatively speaking. Its Eurocopter EC135 MOTUS trainer specifically developed for STAT MedEvac, for instance, sells for less than $1.5 million.

That price can be lowered if a customer is will to accept a simplified unit, such as one in which actual controls are replaced with computer-generated ones on an LCD screen. "If you have a $500,000 budget, we can make it work," said Mark Limbach, Fidelity Flight's vice president of marketing. "We certainly wouldn't refer to a simplified type of unit as a type-specific EC135, but it could be suited for more primary training applications."

MOTUS can provide less expensive full-motion training because its six-degree-of-freedom motion system is driven by small electric motors. That architecture costs much less to build and service than conventional hydraulic systems. In addition, MOTUS' use of Dynamic Control Loading (which is designed to allow a pilot to "feel" the aircraft's response through the flight controls), background soundtrack, and reconfigurable aircraft profile help to create a full-motion environment that is realistic without breaking the bank.

"We're not trying to compete against the CAEs of the world for heavy helicopter training," Limbach said. "We're trying to serve the light and medium helicopter market, where the aircraft costs $3 million or less."

FLYIT Simulators

"For basic piloting skills for VFR/IFR flying, an accurate large visual does the trick," said Michael Coligny, CEO of FLYIT Simulators (www.flyit.com). "Learn the basic skill set in the simulator, and hone those skills in the actual aircraft." In a nutshell, this is the thinking behind the company's Professional Helicopter Simulator. It is a $100,000 stationary unit that combines a cockpit mockup, LCD-displayed instrumentation backed up by actual avionics in the central console, accurate rotor pedals, dual controls and a 93X78-in. rear-projection TV screen in front of the cockpit that provides a ground reference out-the-window view.

The simulator's strength lies in the size and detail of its view, which is also available in a 175-deg. front wraparound using two projectors and a curved screen. The idea is to provide a compelling sense of realism. To enhance the illusion, it also uses a high-fidelity sound system with subwoofer. The training exercise is controlled by a separate instructor station that doubles as the aircraft's ground control system, and initiator of many hair-raising training scenarios and failures.

Despite its sophistication, the machine is portable. It can be installed in a classroom configuration inside an 18-ft. trailer for easy transport. To date, the Professional Helicopter Simulator has FAA and Transport Canada approval as a flight simulation device, and FAA approval as a VFR flight training platform. FLYIT Simulators and its European partner Aerosimulators BVBA in August won JAA approval, after an extensive overhaul, of the AS-PHS-B206 as a Type 2 Flight and Navigation Procedures Trainer. The approval came after more than two years of collaboration with Police Aviation Air Services and the U.K. CAA.

Frasca International
Frasca International's helicopter flight trainers (www.frasca.com) start with FTDs and move up into full-motion simulators. In the less-expensive range, the $200,000 Frasca TruFlite H FTD is designed to create a convincing helicopter cockpit within a simple frame, with an LCD panel display to generate realistic instrument displays. Equipped with either a Robinson T bar or conventional flight controls, the TruFlite H's configuration is similar to a Robinson R44. The two-seater's responses can be set to mimic the R22, R44, Schweizer 300C or 300CBI.

"The TruFlite H utilizes technology that we developed for our Level 6 flight training devices and Level C full flight simulators," said Frasca project manager Bob Summers.

For less than $500,000, the Frasca TruFlite H Model 342 provides a realistic cockpit environment for trainees, inside a mocked up cabin. The 342 simulator is equipped with interchangeable instrument panel overlays, which allows it to be customized to resemble a number of different single or twin engine helicopters models, Summers said. Additional TruFlite H Models are available for turbine single and twin helicopters. A unit that is convertible between a Bell 206 and a Schweizer 300 has been built for the University of North Dakota. An Agusta A119 Koala has also been delivered for the New York Police Dept."

RealSims
Although RealSims LLC (www.realsims.com) makes a variety of simulator products, it is their FasTrac Motor Coach that really caught this reporter's eye. Built inside a self-contained container truck, the FasTrac Motor Coach provides a configurable rotary- or fixed-wing simulator, plus an air-conditioned space where FAA tests can be administered.

The coach can even include living quarters for certified flight instructors who want to take their trade on the road. For $650,000, the coach can be configured as a mid-fidelity Bell 206 trainer, with a realistic cockpit enclosure that uses multi-panel displays.

RealSims also makes a transportable 40-lb. Desktop Trainer (which includes flight chair and controls) for $5,195, and a FasTrac Bell 206 reconfigurable FTD with seat, controls and LCD-displayed avionics for $52,500.

"We can configure our trainers with actual avionics controls, and enable as many controls as our customers want, depending on price," said RealSims' president Robert McGraw. "It's all a matter of deciding how much capability you need for the budget you've got. If a customer wants to spend more to create a more realistic and interactive simulation environment, we are happy to provide it."

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