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Helicopter Flight Training Sponsors

Simulation Scenario Building

Posted 5 years 299 days ago ago by Admin

An old flight training adage recites, “Train as you fly, fly as you train.” Helicopter simulation training is not immune from it, and indeed the adage should be the primary consideration for effective use of simulation. In response to the growing complexity of helicopter operations, more sophisticated automation, and generally increased scrutiny of rotary-wing safety, simulation training is seeing its standard continuously rise. This is making the training organizations ever more sophisticated at setting up helicopter simulation scenarios.

Where the guidelines come from

Guidance on how to best set up a simulation training scenario normally comes from equipment manufacturers and regulatory requirements. Aircraft specific data – such as the rotorcraft flight manual, limitations, normal/abnormal and emergency procedures – provide structure and elements for ground and simulator training. The FAA and EASA supply additional guidance through the Flight Standards Board (FSB) and Operational Suitability Data (OSD), which further discuss maneuvers and procedures developed for a given aircraft type. 

“All of these, along with the needs of the operator, are considerations when designing a lesson plan for training and evaluation in the simulator,” notes Paul Ozmer, Regional Director of Training Operations at FlightSafety International.

Former regulatory requirements emphasized highly structured and rigid training programs to ensure global compliance and standardization. However, over the past two decades, regulated training has increasingly leveraged the use of data and competencies to improve training outcomes, and even the helicopter industry is evolving towards Evidence-Based Training (EBT). 

“EBT incorporates operational data – such as flight data analysis, flight observations and air safety reports – into pilot training and assessment to improve air safety. This helps develop and assess the overall capability for training across the range of competencies. EBT provides a baseline, ready-made training program that allows smaller operators to adopt data-driven, competency-based training,” says Nick Leontidis, Group President of Civil Aviation Training Solutions for CAE.

“EBT is a natural outgrowth of earlier line-oriented flight training (LOFT), crew resource management (CRM) training and scenario-based training (SBT) before it was called such,” adds Randy Gawenda, Business Development Manager at Frasca International.  “The FAA had published Flight Industry Training Standards (FITS) longer ago, which served to address the growing advancement of avionics and technology in general and business aviation aircraft. The FAA used LOFT/SBT to help teach concepts and application of automation in cockpits for pilots that may not have had the same level of professional training as commercial airline pilots. 

“So aviation bodies have provided some formal, documented guidance in the concept, principles, requirements, and need for SBT/EBT, but not from a mandated, regulatory sense yet. It has more the flavor of a ‘best practices’ approach at this time. There is a need for more guidance, however, as these concepts and principles apply to all levels and aircraft, not just passenger-carrying airplanes. Helicopter flight training – as well as ab initio instruction and non-professional pilots – would all greatly benefit from SBT in simulation.”

Setting up a scenario

SBT captures the elements that professional aviators encounter in the course of a flight through performance analysis and briefing of the pre-flight, start-up, taxi, takeoff, approach and landing. 

“Realistic weather, performance and operating environments are all essential to making each scenario realistic,” Ozmer says. “The value of this approach is that the crew is able to develop and practice technical, tactical and CRM responses to a variety of normal and abnormal operations without risk to the aircraft and the crew. Our instructors attend initial and recurrent courses as a client and as an observer, and they get practice and supervised instruction in the classroom and simulator, before working with our customers. They draw upon their experience, their FlightSafety International instructor training, and an analysis of our client’s operating environment and missions to develop a scenario for each client that mirrors the challenges they may encounter in their operations.”

In order to adapt to the realities of operators and ensure pilot readiness, training effectiveness is key. Emerging training and technology innovations that integrate training data with line performance data can help build such an approach. 

“To improve our safety record, it is important to address the root causes of accidents,” Leontidis says. “Often, the root cause of accidents is tied to human factors such as decision-making, crew interaction, communication issues, CRM and work under pressure. We can address such issues through improved training. An instructor armed with data-driven training insights is the first step towards ensuring effective training outcomes, reduced remedial training and a higher standard of readiness. As the industry moves towards EBT, our ability to adjust, customize and respond to customer requirements and quantifiable areas of improvement will be a key differentiator for us.”

Training scenarios need to be realistic and relevant to the pilot’s current type of flying. They should incorporate real-world scenarios such as accident sequences that have occurred before, and then use them to help formulate or re-create a scenario. 

“To use an unusual situation, having an ag spray pilot shoot dozens of instrument flight rules (IFR) approaches in the simulator is not strongly relevant to the type of flying being done,” Gawenda says. “That is not to say that some IFR work should not be done, but the point is to focus on the most significant and challenging aspects of current flying duties. Because the point of scenario-based training is really to teach aeronautical decision-making, not just maneuvers and systems knowledge. The instructor has to think critically, and analyze where problems can occur or where decision-making can be challenged and explored. 

“For an ag pilot, maybe having a few more fields left to spray, lower ceiling and visibility nearby and a forecast to stay low for a while, and the fuel tank getting low, would be a good scenario. Or a businesswoman that flies her own aircraft has a very important meeting that could affect the long-term success of her company, and has to fly into XYZ the night before, but gets a late start and now the weather is much worse than it was forecast to be. What about stuck pedals coming into a rooftop helipad with a patient in the back? Those outside pressures are difficult to permeate fully into a training session, but the point is that each of those pilots has a very personal level of attachment to each of those scenarios. And when it has meaning, it will stay in the knowledge bank of that pilot, and this is what you want.”

Types of scenarios

Trainees are exposed to different training scenarios depending on whether they are scheduled for an initial or a recurrent course. 

“An initial course concentrates on the basics of checklists, systems integration and flying the aircraft before progressing into maneuvers and abnormal and emergency procedures. It typically ends with a check or type rating evaluation,” Ozmer says. “A recurrent course is generally a revalidation of currency and proficiency. Both initial and recurrent clients utilize SBT where, based on that customer’s operations, they can train at the same airports and environments where they typically operate, fly a typical mission, and simulate emergencies and abnormal situations without the attendant risk of training in an aircraft. Cold weather/winter environment, high, hot and heavy or offshore flying are all scenarios that can be presented to crews to increase their proficiency when they encounter these situations during line flying.”

Flight crews should be trained on the scenarios that promote the safest means of coping with the situations they are likely to experience, whatever these may be. Then they can use scenarios to effectively learn the safest means to deal with problems, whether it is by choosing a better landing site, better utilizing the flight crew as a resource or air traffic control (ATC), or perhaps just avoiding a situation altogether. 

“The simulator should be used to the highest level of its potential,” Gawenda says. “Checking the boxes of emergency procedures and flying approaches to standards, etc., are lower limits of what can be taught in the simulator. Unfortunately, those are the ones that are mostly trained today. They may reasonably measure airmanship and systems knowledge of the aircraft, but those outcomes do not measure application and correlation of those skills and knowledge. For most types of training, it has become at best situationally specific and it is not helping to teach advanced aeronautical decision-making and threat/error management. 

“Some of the most valuable lessons for pilots to learn have been from ‘what if’ questions and re-creating accident scenarios, not just completing the curriculum required for type, recurrent, etc. In most cases SBT should not be a pass/fail type of exercise, but it should be promoted as a learning/teaching part of the curriculum. Otherwise, all sorts of excuses and issues quickly interfere with the desired goals and outcomes of SBT. The point of good SBT is to safely expose the student to situations that do not always have a good outcome. You want them to walk out the door with that experience.”

The ways towards EBT

While there is still a long way to go before EBT becomes the norm in helicopter training, it is important for the training organizations to start thinking of best practices for setting up simulation scenarios in light of future EBT requirements. 

“First, the right type of scenarios and curriculum have to be established,” Gawenda says. “These scenarios start the formulate part of the cycle that lends itself to EBT by discovering what we might be missing initially. This then becomes part of a continual feedback loop whereby data is analyzed and helicopter EBT defined.”

It should be noted that EBT is a different way of teaching and thinking. The essence is that just because a student passed a test, it is not necessarily evidence that the student has fully learned and is able to apply whatever knowledge or skill that was attempted to be taught to him/her. 

“We must also remember that each aspect of flying is a different discipline and each needs to be at a high level of proficiency,” Gawenda says. “For instance, flying full automation/AFCS, partial automation (turn the GPS or AP off), and flying only true raw data all need to be kept at a practiced level of skill and ability. It is not like riding a bike and never has been. The I-LOC accidents were foreseeable results based on overemphasis of automation. Regardless of how well the automation can fly, it is not the pilot in command and this is a professional responsibility that should be borne by the pilots and training organizations. Good, thoughtful, deliberate SBT should lead to a safety culture that is able to become proactive, rather than reactive, in terms of the areas where we need more focus and training. We should not be waiting around until we have a string of accidents that we then have to knee-jerk react to because we are already too late.”

Leontidis adds, “EBT shows great promise for helping to make pilot training more relevant to the challenges of modern aviation. EBT principles are being incorporated into training requirements by different regulating authorities, primarily in Europe, and primarily for air carriers. Our CAE Rise™ training system we recently unveiled will strengthen instructors’ ability to deliver standardized training in accordance with operators’ standard operating procedures (SOP), and enable instructors to objectively assess pilot competencies using live data during training sessions. Furthermore, it will equip training stakeholders with deep analytical insights and a new source of data to enhance any pilot training program, including helicopter training.”

Ozmer concludes, “While EBT has yet to be mandated by the FAA, we use data from the National Transportation Safety Board, EASA and Data4Safety to develop scenarios that make the airspace safer for professional aviators. We have been at the forefront introducing Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) and Inadvertent IMC Recovery for rotary wing programs. These programs take the lessons learned from incidents and accidents and allow crews to safely train for these high-risk encounters in a no-risk setting.”

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