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To have or not to have …. That is the question

Posted 13 years 27 days ago ago by Admin

Bob Yerex, Max-Viz Inc. - Let me get a couple points out on paper right from the start ….Polish EMS EC135

A. If you have multiple EMS helicopters and do not have a Level 3 Flight Training Device (FTD) resident to your facility, you are not in 1st place in the “I have the most toys” race.  

B. Oh, and if you do have a Level 3 FTD that doesn’t have a fully functional Enhanced Vision System (EVS) integrated into the visuals ….. your still in 2nd place at best.  

C. Oh  (I nearly forgot) the FTD will support 23 EC-135 aircraft (still in the delivery sequence) for the Polish Medical Air Rescue, Lotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe (or more simply, the LPR).

LPR EC-135 Standing at the Ready

Having been invited in to conduct a week’s worth of program evaluation and EVS training by Wojciech Wozniczka, the LPR Deputy Technical Director.  I had the sincere pleasure to work with this tremendously professional EMS group based out of Warsaw, Poland which had been founded in 2000.  The LPR was a result of the consolidation of several independent EMS units to form a single state (country) medical service with the ability to coordinate all care from one single location.

“The specific inclusion of infrared Enhanced Vision System technology from Max-Viz (the dual optical field of view EVS-1500) was an early decision made by the LPR” states their EC-135 Project Coordinator (Marcin Wiktorzak).   “Even more specific was our insistence on the inclusion of the EVS into our simulator (to include the zoom functionality of the EVS-1500), which will allow us to better train to our actual aircraft in much more realistic scenario based simulator sessions”.   

In-Flight EVS Imagery on the EC-135 SMD-68 Display
A simulator (or FTD to this level) clearly provides tremendous value to any program when integral to the actual organization.  As a former professional pilot (US Coast Guard SAR, Airline, and Single Pilot IFR EMS), I spent a large percentage of my aviation life being wrung out in various levels of simulators and FTD’s, I personally can attest to the training and safety value they bring into any program.  Whether used as a procedural device to develop normal operational flow patterns or to better understand how emergencies are both manifested and resolved … they provide an environment where learning can occur without the potential for injury (other than your feelings when another pilot or astute simulator instructor teaches you a new meaning for the word “respect”).  Throw in the visual aspects resident in this LPR FTD, and you can induce a level of stress into the cockpit that will have crews climbing out of the device wanting to take a shower!

My week with the LPR was filled up with facility and program analysis, infrared 101 platform presentations to both pilots and paramedics, and both simulator and on-aircraft flight instruction to enhance the LPR’s understanding of this innovative EVS technology included on these new aircraft.  Platform presentations of infrared theory are like some nightmarish return to a college class you never wanted to take in the first place … it is rare not to hear the sound of at least one forehead slam into a walnut desk at some point in the training.  Like any (well most) college course, there is truly a method to the madness, and after 3 hours of grueling instruction, the same pictures or videos shown at the onset of the training are met with comprehension and interpretation that routinely amazes even a trainer from the EVS manufacturer.

Legacy MI-2 Fuselage Used as a Emergency Egress Training Device

The Eurocopter / CAE Level 3 FTD included a fixed base (non motion) cockpit identically modeled after the LPR EC-135 aircraft and includes a full vision dome with six high resolution projectors that presents imagery superior to most I have seen anywhere in the industry (including many full visual / full motion flight simulators).  There is ample space aft of the cockpit for two articulating seats (one of which includes the simulator operator station) and additional open space for multiple observers if desired.   On my initial orientation to the FTD, it appeared that the EVS imagery was presented in an unrealistic manner (i.e. no atmospheric degradation of the image) which is clearly not the reality of EVS technology.  Throughout the week, working cooperatively with Marcin Czarnowski, the LPR Senior Licensed Mechanic and Maciej Sar, the FTD Maintenance Team Leader, we were able to determine that a combination of night flight and varied levels of snow provide an extremely accurate representation of the performance of EVS in a similar flight in real atmospherics.  Including that degraded imagery (both visual and appropriately modeled EVS) into a realistic transit scenario through a sparsely illuminated semi-mountainous region of Southern Poland, we were able to present a situation (visibility reduction and lower ceilings / elevated terrain) where a course reversal becomes the appropriate flight decision.  Following the course reversal, by increasing the level of snow and further reducing the ceiling, only two options become available … continue into Inadvertent Flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC) is clearly a really crappy idea in a mountainous region, or quickly find a forced landing area.

By developing a realistic scenario that presents factors that have resulted in countless accidents worldwide in the HEMS industry, pilot / paramedic flight crews have the ability to encounter these situations, and programs have the ability to improve / enhance the safety culture.  By the active inclusion of the Paramedic in the left pilot-seat position, the ability to integrate these personnel into the dynamics of the mission would enhance Crew Resource Management and further enforce a “three to say go …. one to say no” thought process mentality, where the medical crew has a defined input into the launch / abort decision process.  Clearly there are no programs worldwide that expects an accident to occur.  As an industry, HEMS trains for and implements new technologies to mitigate IIMC, which is the principal initiator of Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents.  The ability to incorporate realistic training in a fully visual FTD (with the addition of a fully functional infrared EVS) provides an unprecedented capability that the LPR alone enjoys worldwide.
The ability to provide the technology to enhance the safety of an organization such as the LPR and additionally present an insight into its use and integration into their operational culture during an on-site visit was a sincere pleasure.  As a pilot and safety professional, I cannot express how effective this pairing of technologies (appropriate visual simulator and EVS) were in presenting a scenario that has cost far too many lives within the rotorcraft (and fixed wing) industry through IIMC and CFIT accidents.  In writing this article, I would implore safety and simulator professionals within the industry to take a step back, and look to the East (or West depending on where you might reside) at this extraordinary LPR organization, and the capability they have innovated within the aviation industry.

Bob Yerex is VP Sales and Marketing for Max-Viz Inc. and is an 8000 flight hour dual rated ATP (S-61 and Cessna Citation) with CFI / CFII and can be reached at [email protected]