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A Tale of Two Schools

Posted 12 years 138 days ago ago by Admin

By Lyn Burks, Jessica Parker, and Nick Mayhew

Remember the days when only those “high-fallutin” multi-engine helicopter drivers had the chance to train in helicopter simulators. For years, only pilots flying larger helicopters, such as the Sikorsky S76 or the Bell 412, were graced with such opportunities to perform tail rotor failures and engine fires from the relative safety of a simulator.  As goes the rest of the world, advances in technology, combined with accommodating regulations have brought the world of simulation down to the real-world-level of primary training schools. Nowadays, one can fly an instrument approach into Newark, NJ in an R22 simulator just as easily as in the S76 simulator.  In this article, I asked two primary flight training schools to share how they use simulators to enhance their business and deliver flight training to their customers.

The Mountain Ridge Helicopters Perspective – Logan, Utah

We have 200 hours in the helicopter, 100 ground lessons and five checkrides combined with a multitude of challenges, rewards and commitments to get a civilian flight school student ready to truly take the controls as PIC.  Without a doubt, there is tremendous pressure and an enormous amount of collective effort.  The saying, “It takes a village” couldn’t be more accurate than in the training environment.  As an industry, we rely on our Chief Flight Instructors to develop comprehensive curriculum and implement safe operating procedures that are effective but don’t choke the training process.  Quality operating procedures will include “trial and error” opportunities as an important component of their curriculum, which is one reason why we place the most amount of trust in our flight instructors. They are the people who are truly on the front lines when it comes to training.  Newly certified 200 hour instructors need to know they can put students in realistic, high pressure situations without compromising safety. We rely on our A&P’s to keep the helicopters, not just airworthy, but safe and available for students 24/7/365. Together, with the right equipment, this village prepares the best of the best of newly trained pilots entering today’s market.

Systematic. Theoretical. This is how the majority of flight school students describe instrument training. In the past, primary helicopter instrument instruction in the civilian training industry has lacked real world application. One reason for this deficit is because there are few helicopter training programs that have access to IFR certified aircraft as opposed to just IFR trainers.   A second component is because there are few instructors that have actual instrument experience.  These two factors have led the primary helicopter flight training industry to approach instrument courses on a theoretical basis.

As an industry, we have choices.  We can teach procedure, systematic reactions and approach instrument training as a theoretical, conceptual method of flying that you may or may not use during your career.  However, evolving technology offers us the opportunity to  enhance the student’s experience by introducing them to the innovative, modern world of learning with a Flight Training Device (FTD).  As a flight school, we are not reinventing the wheel. For example, in advanced helicopter training markets, FlightSafety International has spent years delivering its training through simulation based models.  Also, simulation training is not just limited to  the helicopter industry.  Doctors practice procedures using simulation all the time.  Using this reasoning, it’s a no brainer to see how the concept would carry over into the helicopter world.

When given the option to purchase an FTD, Mountain Ridge jumped at the chance. The opportunity to have affordable, state of the art equipment in our facility was the primary driver in our decision making process. In fact, it was the third piece of training equipment we purchased. We chose a FLYIT Simulator, which  has since become a key component to our comprehensive program. We wanted to give the instructors this additional tool  because it gave them the ability to create real world, scenario based training situations.  These scenarios not only gave students a much better understanding of instrument flying, but made the transition into IFR training in the real aircraft much easier and more efficient. 

In addition to using the FTD for procedural training, we opted to use it to simulate scenarios that are outside of our local flight training environment.  An “outside” scenario might include flying to an offshore oil platform while experiencing deteriorating weather enroute to the rig.  The FLYIT is not just limited to IFR training.  We place students in situations that could not be realistically and/or safely duplicated in the helicopter, which  allowed  us to test  their decision making process on a more intense level.  Without an FTD, this level of intensity would never be experienced in a non-emergency situation.

Another factor in purchasing a FLYIT was to make instrument training cost effective for our students. At our altitude in Logan, Utah,  an R22 instrument trainer is impractical. We needed an alternative for students to avoid spending a small fortune on R44 time. The FTD was the perfect solution.  At Mountain Ridge, we view the FTD as a helicopter.  Hobbs is tracked and maintenance is performed.

Just like a helicopter, emergency situations happen or they are created.  Located at the instructor’s fingertip is a panel of buttons that we call the “God Buttons”.  For example, tail rotor failure, alternator failure, warning lights and noises can all be simulated while flying an instrument approach.   These scenarios are duplicated in the simulator, without real world consequences.   Therefore, time spent in the FTD is worthwhile.  Since the FAA stamped their approval for simulators to be used toward an instrument rating, FTD’s offer the opportunity for students to pursue this rating, in part,  without the distraction of the helicopter.  If a students chooses to exercise this option, the transition from the FTD into the R44 is painless.  

As most instrument pilots will tell you, holds are probably one of the more difficult procedures to master.  If you get behind, things go bad rather quickly. There have been several occasions where students have struggled with holds in the helicopter. Our FLYIT offered an option by allowing us to explain the procedure using an FTD.   We were then able to reintroduce the process by slowing it, pausing it and breaking it down at a pace where the student could master it.  In doing so, we take the fear out of the procedure,  the student understands the purpose and they are able to build confidence. It is much easier to accomplish proficiency in the FTD, and overall the process takes less time.  In the end,  it is more cost effective for the student and the school.

At Mountain Ridge, our goal is to maintain a high standard of training in a cost effective manner.  We create pilots that are safety oriented and fully prepared to succeed in a variety of situations.  By taking them out of the helicopter and  putting them in the FTD, we force their focus on the ever important task of understanding the instrument procedures and how to use them.

Jessica Parker, the author of this segment is the School Director for Mountain Ridge Helicopters located in Logan, UT. To learn more about Mountain Ridge Helicopters, visit www.mountainridgeheli.com


The Bristow Academy Perspective – A Global Approach

Bristow Academy operates flight training campuses worldwide.  Each campus utilizes one or more training devices, which include a variety of helicopter makes and models.   Flight Training Devices (FTD’s) are safe, economical and offer training scenarios that can be hazardous to experience in the air, especially for the first time. 

Technology continues to march on at a rapid pace and computer graphics can be very powerful and convincing.  When you are immersed in the synthetic environment , humans know subconsciously when a situation is being simulated – even if it looks real!  That’s why at the Academy, they concentrate on getting you airborne in the real world,  with a physical helicopter strapped to you for  Private Pilot training.  There are opportunities to sit in “part task trainers”  and practice things like start up checklists.  Students also have the option of using the flight training device to learn local procedures and radio calls.  With this being said, the real advantage comes once you have grasped the basics of handling the helicopter and you know what could happen if the engine fails.  This is the best time to climb into the Flight Training Device (FTD) and learn how to manage a variety of procedures  in a safe environment where risk in basically reduced to nothing.

Federal Aviation Regulations currently allow 20 of the 40 hours required for an instrument rating to be flown in an approved synthetic device (FTD).  Bristow Academy has an FAA approved FRASCA Tru Flite AATD level device configured as a Sikorsky 300 in Titusville, FL.   The school also operates a FLYIT FTD in New Iberia, LA which is also set up as an S300 which allows students to practice attitude flying, holds, ILS and GPS approaches at the push of a button. Students can fly an approach in China and then fly one in Florida during the same hour, if that is their wish.  They can test their abilities and fly a leg with a 40 knot crosswind or a gentle breeze of a headwind.  This can be done in the clouds or VMC, depending on the student’s or instructor’s choice. All of this and more is available at the flip of a switch or the turn of a dial.  In this case, a motion platform in not required because the visual cues are sufficient to convey the simulation and create an environment conducive to learning instrument flying skills.  In Gloucester, England there are 2 JAA approved ELITE FTDs set up to compliment the single pilot multi-engine IR program and students will learn to build their scan, practice European instrument procedures and experience the pressures of coping with an emergency, while continuing to accurately fly the aircraft in clouds.

As pilots move into more complicated helicopters, aircraft typically have more engines and more systems, which increase  the potential for emergencies to occur.

This is where simulation becomes very valuable.  Complex systems can be replicated in a safe environment and their use rehearsed until “familiarity is king”.

The Academy is in the process of upgrading its AATD Bell 206 FTD at the Titusville Campus.  Learning to operate this relatively simple single engine turbine aircraft can be conducted in the FTD before climbing into the cockpit of the real aircraft.

Those checks need to be learned and the start sequence can be rehearsed many times.  Now, throw in a hot start, a hung engine, or maybe a simulated fire on start.  Using the FTD first to become proficient in these procedures, could potentially save many dollars in the real world.

Flight simulation has many uses and as the technology of the devices continues to improve  I hope we will see more credits being recognized by Aviation Authorities toward  the requirements of pilot certificates. Other training that make good use of simulator technology include:

  • Flying on Night Vision Goggles in the “sim” before battling with them at night in an unfamiliar cockpit.
  • Sharpening the decision making process with Crew Resource Management (CRM) or Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM) scenarios.
  • Giving real consideration to Human Factors (HF) by testing yourself in high pressure situations in a controlled environment., i.e., IIMC recovery procedures. 

One last piece of advice, it is suggested to configure the FTD cockpit as close as possible to the aircraft type that you are simulating, otherwise the training can have a negative effect.  This is particularly important when operating more complicated multi- engine helicopters as you don’t want to develop any negative primal habits such as switching off the hydraulics in the FTD, when in the real aircraft, the switch in that position turns off the fuel!

Nick Mayhew, the author of this segment is General Manager of Bristow Academy in Titusville, FL.  Bristow Academy currently has 2 campuses in the United States, and also provides European JAA/EASA, single pilot multi-engine instrument training in Gloucester, England. Titusville, FL operates 50 helicopters, employs over 130 employees, and is approved to conduct FAA, JAA (soon to be EASA) and military training.  They operate an additional 12 helicopters from their New Iberia, LA campus, and 2 AS355s at their UK campus, and each training location utilizes one or more synthetic training devices. To learn more about the Bristow Academy, visit www.heli.com

FTD’s Here to Stay

As FTDs continue to evolve and offer more sophisticated features, they will continue to play an increasing role in the primary flight training market. Two schools, two unique applications with the same message.  Flight simulators, when used properly, offer affordable training, in a safe environment with a variety of missions.  In today’s ever changing world, technology is improving the industry with the flip of a switch.

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