By Peter Gray
HeliSim and Eurocopter officially inaugurated the world's first EC225 full-flight simulator (FFS) in October at Eurocopter's base at Marignane in France.
HeliSim's partners include Eurocopter, Défense Conseil International (DCI) and Thales, the simulator manufacturer. The simulator is qualified to level D, the highest, most capable qualification. Level D allows zero flight time conversion training for pilots experienced on a similar type. No aircraft time is needed.
However, the first flight in an aircraft must be with a qualified training captain. It is intended that 1.5h be flown on the actual EC225 helicopter before the pilot's type rating is issued. There is a choice of five roll-on/roll-off cockpits, the Super Puma L1 and L2, AS365 Dauphin N2, EC155 and EC225.
The simulator has a six degrees of motion freedom, an instructor station, simulation of all systems and full replica of the cockpits, sound and a visual system field view of 200° horizontal and 60° vertical, daylight, dusk and night. The visual database features detailed airports, heliports, helipads and platforms, as well as realistic 3D moving models.
Similarly, flight profiles can be adjusted to any customer's mission profile and any working environment. For example, hot, high and heavy - the most testing of environments.
Many helicopter manufacturers do not supply simulator manufacturers with actual helicopter data, so they have to estimate some performance criteria. In this case, the simulator is based on actual data, so it handles exactly as the real thing. I can confirm this, since I carried out a 2h test flight previously on the actual aircraft. The realism is so accurate that a design bug that was discovered on the simulator read across to the aircraft. The bug was removed. Any helicopter modifications will also be incorporated into the simulator.
Training courses offered by HeliSim and Eurocopter include standard and recurrent training such as type rating, emergency refresher, instrument flying, GPS approach, night flying, confined area, search and rescue, crew reaction in deteriorating conditions, offshore platform and rooftop landings, line orientated flight training, crew resource management and night vision goggles training.
While the cost of the simulator was not revealed, the flight hours are half the cost of flying the helicopter, says Eurocopter/HeliSim.
The simulator is being used every day for 20h, with its candidates mostly offshore pilots. The oil and gas industries are looking for oil and gas further out from shore and as a result of past experiences, high standards are required. The global fleet of modern helicopters is increasing, says Eurocopter, hence the high utilisation of the simulator. Another heavy user is the military. Military scenarios including the use of night vision goggles are incorporated.
HeliSim also introduced a flight training device. This has full visual, but uses a three-axis shaking floor motion system - much cheaper. It too offers the same five cockpits. It can reproduce any weather conditions such as night, dusk, dawn and can locate the training on to any airport in the world. Flight International was invited by Eurocopter to fly both.
I have flown many helicopter simulators with visual and six degrees of motion. The correlation between the visual presentation and control movements has always been unrealistic, making the simulator much harder to control during visual manoeuvring than the helicopter. This EC225 simulator was no different, even with the 200° horizontal and 60° vertical vision system.
I had difficulty estimating my height off the ground during my first hover attempt and holding an accurate hover. Into forward flight and weaving my way through the terrain at modest height, the simulator did indeed fly exactly as the helicopter with its sophisticated autopilot coupling system. Even flying it "raw", with all the stabilisation and autopilot systems taken out, it felt just like the aircraft.
I was invited by the Eurocopter instructor in the left-hand seat to carry out an approach into a nearby large garden. It was difficult. I struggled to adopt a constant, well-controlled steep approach due to the imperfect correlation between the visual and cockpit control movements and the lack of three dimensions in the visual display. I was unable to come to a neat hover and lower the aircraft gently on to the ground, and landed with a thump, albeit at the landing location.
We were later given a demonstration of a visual system, which provided much better quality in imagery and effects.
The flight in the flight-training device was to an offshore platform. For the same reasons, I had great difficulty in flying down the approach, coming to the hover and landing, something I have done thousands of times in various helicopters, day and night. The instructor had to intervene to stop me missing the platform entirely. He also had to assist me with the landing. However, flight training devices are not designed to provide visual landing practice to offshore platforms. They excel at giving instrument and other training under all sorts of conditions, and are much cheaper not having the six-axis motion system.
Flying modern helicopters requires a high degree of skill and competence to deal with the extreme complexity of the different missions with which crews are expected to cope, both civil and military. The world's helicopter community, the manufacturers and operators, agree on the need to improve helicopter safety.
Two major parts of the solution are to have the best helicopter for the task and the best trained pilots. This is where simulators come into their own. For example, you cannot realistically simulate tail rotor failures - loss of drive, loss of control, stuck pedal - in the aircraft. The simulator can train pilots to deal with all three. The simulator can expose crews to dangerous military missions, a flight towards oil rigs in bad weather conditions over the North Sea or a demanding search and rescue mission in freezing instrument meteorological conditions.
The high degree of realism is invaluable. The first time I crashed a simulator trying to recover from a tail rotor failure had the adrenalin flowing and the pulse racing. But I eventually learned how to land safely.
Unlike the actual helicopters, simulator serviceability and availability is about 99%. This applies to this Eurocopter/HeliSim/Thales model.