Simulation has clear advantages for training over ‘real’ flight – there’s no real danger if something goes wrong, pilots can practise coping with dangerous situations, training costs are far lower and weather and day / night conditions can be manipulated at will.

"There is relatively little difference between developing a simulator for the military and civil sectors."

CAE has facilities worldwide, and its simulators incorporate a range of technologies aimed at both civil and military training.

While there’s some common ground between the civil and military systems, there are also differences. As with many other industry sectors, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology plays a key part.

Here, CAE’s global sales leader for helicopter training solutions, Jean-Luc Couderc, gives an insight into the kit behind the screens.

Guy Richards: Which key technologies would you find on the latest cutting-edge simulator?

Jean-Luc Couderc: CAE has recently introduced its 3000 Series simulators, incorporating leading-edge technologies that are optimised for helicopter training.

These include a direct-projection dome with very large field of view, high-fidelity three-axis vibration, 3D ocean environment, artificial intelligence for crowd and vehicle movement and rapid cockpit interchange.

GR: Why are COTS technologies so important here?

J-LC: COTS technologies enable development of lower-cost, lower-risk training solutions by incorporating systems and components readily available on the market, for example today’s powerful personal computers or graphics processors from the video games market.

Incorporating the latest COTS and simulation design technologies enables us to reduce size and weight, as well as manufacturing and operating costs, while improving the realism of helicopter simulation. COTS-based training solutions also enable rapid and cost-effective technology insertion as new commercial systems come on the market.

For example, we transitioned to a COTS all-electric motion system several years ago. To address noise concerns, we developed and patented a silencing block where the motion system connects to the simulator. The result was a quiet system with a 60% lower operating cost built on COTS components.

GR: What advances do the latest technologies represent over previous ones?

J-LC: In the 3000 Series the high-resolution visual scenery extends over 200º by 80º. This surrounds the aircrew in an immersive training environment with rich scene detail, allowing better assessment of height and speed cues. This is critical when training low-altitude operations, as well as emergency conditions.

Pilot cueing is further enhanced with the three-axis vibration system, which is able to reproduce the exact aircraft performance over the complete flight envelope.

The product is designed to provide training capabilities for oil and gas support services with oil-rig landings, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) scenarios that incorporate artificial intelligence for dynamic crowd and vehicle movements, as well as search and rescue (SAR) capabilities in difficult high-sea state conditions. Customers can also train for police chase scenarios, land on ships at sea and other training tasks.

GR: Have the advances come gradually or in sudden jumps – if the latter, what kind of jumps have been made in the past few years?

J-LC: The CAE 3000 Series incorporates a direct-projection screen for the visual system, which is a step-change from earlier collimated display layouts. This new approach means larger fields of view, including covering the chin window areas, and better distance perception just prior to touchdown.

GR: How have these advances impacted on the nature of the training?

J-LC: Most civil helicopter training occurs in the helicopter.

"Simulation has clear advantages for training over ‘real’ flight – there’s no real danger if something goes wrong."

One of the most dangerous manoeuvres is autorotation – even at the best of times, this emergency manoeuvre has a low margin of safety. Until now, students could not afford simulators with the level of fidelity necessary to practice this task.

Additionally, the fast reposition functions of a simulator means students can perform this manoeuvre dozens of times in an hour.

Additionally, a suite of avionics – hydraulic, electric and engine malfunctions – can be trained on by the pilots, who generally learn and remember better when they experience it in the simulator.

Most civil helicopter training is conducted in the aircraft. Consequently, 23% of helicopter accidents occur during training in the aircraft. If that same training is conducted in a high-fidelity simulator, those aircraft training accidents can be eliminated, providing a head start towards achieving the industry goal of reducing accidents by 80%.

GR: What are the key differences between simulator technology for the civilian sector and that for the military?

J-LC: In terms of simulating the flight envelope, there is relatively little difference between developing a simulator for the military and civil sectors. The key differences would be with respect to military-specific sensors, weapons systems and mission computers.

The most significant difference is the tactical environment in which the aircrew trains. Military helicopter and fixed-wing simulator training involve collaborative missions with hundreds of friendly and enemy participants. Many of these participants are computer-generated, while some are other simulators connected remotely into large-scale war gaming scenarios.

GR: Do you think there are any ways in which simulator technology could add even more functionality in the future?

J-LC: There is much interest in evidence-based training (EBT) techniques in the fixed-wing world. This approach can involve use of flight data recorder information to recreate conditions for simulator-based training.

Our CAE Flightscape division has developed capabilities to enable such training events. We foresee these advancements in rotary-wing training as well.

GR: What can you tell me about some of your training programmes around the world?

"There is much interest in evidence-based training (EBT) techniques in the fixed-wing world."

J-LC: CAE acquired the helicopter flight training operations of CHC Helicopter [in March 2011] as well as executing an agreement for CAE to be CHC’s long-term training partner. [As a result] CHC Helicopter’s simulators and two training centres located in Stavanger, Norway, and Aberdeen, UK, have become part of the CAE global training network.

CAE and helicopter operator Líder Aviação, in Brazil, will provide simulation-based, helicopter pilot training in South America beginning in 2012. The new joint venture will use the Level D CAE 3000 Series full-flight simulator, which will replicate the Sikorsky S-76C++ aircraft.

Also, the Airports Authority of India and CAE have agreed to launch a helicopter ab initio pilot training programme later this year at the CAE Global Academy in Gondia.

The programme will lead to a commercial helicopter pilot licence and within three years is expected to graduate about 100 new helicopter pilots annually.