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Advances in Helicopter Simulation

Posted 23 days ago ago by jhadmin

The field of aviation training devices and simulators is an ever evolving and interesting area.  As expenses increase in so many sectors of the rotorcraft industry, devices (which don’t move) and simulators (capable of motion) help contain training and certification costs. [NOTE: In this article, the terms “sim” and “simulation” are used at times to collectively refer to both types of trainers.] Sims can create flight scenarios that are too dangerous to duplicate in actual aircraft, and make practicing other procedures safer. For example, more fatal training accidents occur practicing autorotations than any other skill. Simulation for such scenarios can save lives.

Basic aviation training devices (BATDs) and advanced aviation training devices (AATDs) are now so affordable that primary flight schools have embraced using them to teach instruments, navigation, systems, and emergency procedures. Until the introduction and acceptance of these devices, these schools simply could not afford to acquire high-end flight training devices or full flight simulators.

Simulation is governed by two FAA groupings: those that fall under the authority of AFS-205 National Simulator Program, and those that are governed by AFS-810 General Aviation and Commercial Division.

AFS-205 National Simulator Program (NSP)

AFS-205 is generally responsible for the airline world. However, helicopter activity and aircraft have approached the most sophisticated transport category airplanes in complexity. Thus, helicopter flight training organizations use both full flight simulators and flight training devices. This program is governed by 14 CFR, Part 60.

  • Full Flight Simulator (FFS):  Levels A - D

    • Level B is the lowest level of helicopter simulation.

    • Level C has an outside horizontal field of view of at least 75 degrees for each pilot.

    • Level D outside horizontal field of view is at least 150 degrees, sounds in cockpit, etc.

  • Flight Training Device (FTD):  Levels 5 - 7 (most sophisticated)

    • Evaluated annually by NSP (ASO-205).

    • Statement of Qualification valid for 12 months.

    • Approval: Training Program Approval Authority and flight school/syllabus.

AFS-810 General Aviation and Commercial Division

AFS-810 is responsible for the development, program requirements, technical guidance, policies, standards, and approvals for aviation training devices used to satisfy pilot experience and training requirements under 14 CFR, Parts 61 and 141.

Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) is the lowest level of simulation and must recreate the appearance, arrangement, operation, and function of basic systems. Ten loggable hours with an instructor present in these devices may be applied towards an instrument rating and IFR proficiency.

Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) is first required to meet or exceed BATD approval requirements. An AATD must also display sufficient aircraft cockpit design, ergonomic features, and performance characteristics better than those required for BATDs. Additional elements over those required for BATDs include: shrouded cockpit, cockpit knobs, system controls, and switches/switch panels in realistic sizes and design appropriate for each intended function. Up to 20 loggable hours may be applied towards an instrument rating under Part 61, while Part 141 school usage is generally negotiated between the school and FAA inspector, and heavily influenced by how the school implements the device into its syllabus.

Total Immersion Training

Total immersion is a relatively new term, but not a new idea. This type of training can be defined as focused training that reduces distractions, thus allowing for total focus on training objectives. This is accomplished with a flight training environment that completely shuts out the outside world. Once in the simulator, for all intents and purposes participants are sitting in the aircraft.

Faithful representation of the aircraft is the most important factor for achieving  total immersion. The primary driving force to improved realism is new technology, particularly technology that impacts simulator visuals, accurate aircraft flight modeling, spot-on systems replication, motion cuing, and vibration.

Visual Systems

The tremendous improvements in simulator visuals can actually be attributed to the gaming industry. Many years ago someone came up with the idea of using the Microsoft Flight Simulator game as a graphics engine for flight simulation. Commercial graphics generator Prepar3D also began as a game and is now a Lockheed Martin product. While today’s graphics are exponentially ahead of their earlier game ancestors, it is still the gaming industry and its resources that propel improvement.

Vast visual improvements have also occurred with new technology projectors that include incredible resolution and fidelity. Graphics are so clear that you have to look hard to see they are generated.

Systems Replication

It is essential that all simulation systems work exactly as they do in the actual aircraft, even at the lower end of simulation. By contrast, the highest sim end, FAA Level 7, only exists in the rotary-wing community. The faithful replication of vibrations and sound, properly synced with visuals, all come together to offer tremendous realism. When motion is added, the result can be close to complete replication of most aircraft flight environments.

The industry has realized great improvement by developing electric motion bases. Interestingly, the use of electric motors over hydraulics was led by lower end manufacturers who used them to curtail costs. These motors are able to respond more quickly and accurately than hydraulics, thus improving pilot cues.

Higher end simulator manufacturers have followed with the introduction of electric linear actuators. In contrast to the circular motion of a conventional electric motor, linear actuators create motion in a straight line. This allows for precise and subtle motion cues.


On the higher end of simulation, (Levels 6 and 7 for FTDs, and Levels C and D for FFSs) costs have come down a little. However, multi-million dollar outlays still exist for the latest Level D simulators.

For lower end BATDs and AATDs, nominal costs have remained fairly constant for the last decade. However, the capability of these devices have increased, resulting in more realism for the money. Their sophistication is often times astounding, especially if you add vibration and motion. If training credit and FAA approvals were not in the equation, these devices today would in all likelihood be as capable as today’s FFS. It could well be that in the not too distant future that higher and lower end training devices will be very close in capability.

Innovative Leasing

One last emerging trend involves dry leasing very high-end simulators to customers, who then implement their own internal training programs. This is the approach that Metro Aviation’s Helicopter Flight Training Center (HFTC) uses. [Rotorcraft Pro reported on  HFTC in the Jan-Feb 2016 issue.] Customers come to the Louisiana facility for training, and HFTC even goes so far as to train customers’ instructors on the sims at no cost.

To make all of this happen, HFTC leadership reached out to flight sim OEMs. Together, they developed programs that set up the devices at HFTC for free, with a guaranteed and negotiated minimum usage and hourly fee. Bottom line: It’s a win for both Metro Aviation and its customers who can now afford to use high-end simulators. With business model innovation like this, and with technology continuing to advance, the future of flight simulation should continue to reach even higher realms of realism and service.

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