Helicopter simulators are accounting for an increasing proportion of military flight simulator sales as more sophisticated aircraft, more demanding missions and more advanced training technology combine to create demand.
Manufacturers are increasingly providing simulation-based training for customers and more operators are establishing simulator-equipped schoolhouses for helicopters.
Recent developments include CAE's agreement with India's Hindustan Aeronautics to set up a helicopter training centre in Bangalore. The $55 million centre is to begin operations in late 2008, training train military and civil operators of HAL's Dhruv helicopter as well as the Bell 412 and Eurocopter Dauphin.
CAE is already a partner with helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland in the Rotorsim training centre in Italy, which trains military and civil operators of the A109 and AW139, with a second AW139 simulator to be installed in the USA in 2008.
"Helicopters are becoming a platform of choice, and training goes along with that," says CAE's chief technology officer Adolfo Klassen. But, compared with fixed-wing simulators, the visual and tactical environments need to be more sophisticated, he says. And one reason for the increased demand for helicopter simulators is advances in physical cueing technology.
Electric motion systems with better frequency response than traditional hydraulics are becoming standard. Initially electric systems lacked the power to move heavy helicopter simulators with their large field-of-view display systems. "It's only now that electric motion can do the job," he says.
Visual system performance is key for helicopter simulation because of the need for a wide field-of-view and high scene density to provide adequate motion cues at low speed and low altitude - "200e_SDgr by 60e_SDgr is the minimum, and is enhanced with side displays for the chin windows," Klassen says. As a result, many helicopter simulators feature dome displays.
CAE has produced several simulators with roll-on/roll-off cockpits to allow training on different helicopter types. One reason is that helicopter operators often have small fleets, making dedicated devices uneconomic. "We are seeing more competitions for roll-on/roll-off simulators for three or four different types," says Klassen.
Although helicopter simulators can be complex and capable, the rotary-wing world is not as sophisticated in their use as its fixed-wing counterpart. Simulator data packages are often "not quite adequate", he says, because helicopter manufacturers "do not have the infrastructure and know-how of Airbus or Boeing", so additional flight testing is needed.
Klassen expects military operators to benefit from work within the rotary-wing community to define new regulations that will encourage the use of simulation-based training by civil helicopter operators to improve their safety record.
Rather than simply adopting the revamped training-device certification levels recently agreed by the civil fixed-wing community, the helicopter industry is working on its own, which should become available within the next 12-18 months, says Klassen.
CAE sees two distinct markets: devices for entry-level rotary-wing flight training with a cockpit and visual but no motion or vibration platform and high-end machines for mission rehearsal. "Eight out of 10 simulators we sell are high-end," he says.