Search and rescue helicopters often operate in extreme conditions so crew training is vital

Stewart Penney/RAF ST MAWGAN

As the UK Ministry of Defence considers contracting out all flight simulator operation to private contractors, it can look to the Royal Air Force-owned and-operated Westland Sea King simulator at St Mawgan as an example of what can be achieved by service personnel. The facility will be a benchmark against which to evaluate private proposals.


Training for RAF search and rescue (SAR) crews is performed by 203 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF St Mawgan in south-west England. The unit is equipped with the Sea King HAR3 and HAR3A for UK SAR tasks: duties are shared with the Royal Navy and private contractors.

Whereas RAF support helicopter crews use the contractorised simulators provided by CAE Aircrew Training Services at RAF Benson (Flight International, 4-10 July), SAR crews use an RAF-owned and -operated simulator. During the 22-week Sea King conversion course, a pilot will spend 48h in the Thomson Training & Simulation (TTS)-built simulator and 68h in the air. Each year, 16 pilots and a similar number of rear-crew members - radar operators and winchmen - convert to the Sea King.

The simulator is also used by the Belgian air force. John Moody, flight commander of 203 Sqn, says there are plans to increase simulator utilisation to 24h a day, almost tripling its present use. He adds that the simulator's recent upgrade to allow night vision goggles training will make the facility attractive to potential new customers. Third party revenue is a key consideration for any simulator provider.

As well as SAR pilots, RAF Westland Wessex pilots use the simulator to practice control failures - particularly of the tail rotor. As with all simulators, the Sea King device is used for recurrent training of emergency and instrument procedures by operational crews.

Moody does not know of any conversion failures since the simulator was acquired. This helps, for example, with the Sea King HAR3 and its simplex flight control system. The student must learn the system's intricacies - which is "difficult", Moody says, "but it can be sorted out in the simulator".

A benefit of the St Mawgan facility is the use of full-time reservists as instructors. They are used to the military system and are "not long out of flying and, therefore, are still current", Moody says. Simulator instructor Flt Lt David Carey says there are proposals to give the simulator instructors a monthly flying allocation to maintain experience on the real helicopter.

Carey and his three colleagues have been instrumental in developing the simulator facility's capabilities. Carey has developed a Sea King procedural training course which means RAF crews no longer need to use a commercial Sikorsky S-61 simulator (the Westland Sea King is a license built S-61). The instructors are also developing a ground school to take over from the RN when it ceases Sea King training.

Wraparound visuals

The simulator's primary job, Carey says, is to practice the flying task before the student takes to the real helicopter, improving the sortie's training value. The TTS simulator has a 200¹ x 40í wraparound visual system while the terrain database includes all RAF airfields as well as other major UK and Northern European airfields. Over the sea - the depiction of which changes to simulate varying sea states - visual features range from aircraft carriers to liferafts and floating bodies. The last, plus high definition cliff faces and mountainous regions, help teach the pilot the essentials of SAR flying, including not allowing the rotor's downwash to push liferafts away from the winchman, and the effects of hovering close to cliffs.

To help train rear cabin crewmembers, MALM Norman Pringle acquired a superfluous radar trainer from the Royal Navy, from which he has built a trainer to teach skills in using the winch and getting survivors into the cabin.

Like all RAF simulator programmes, the Sea King was acquired as a spend-to-save programme, and it has brought flexibility and safety to training. The end product is better output, Pringle concludes.

Source: Flight International