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The A109 Helicopter Training Simulator

SQNLDR Andrew Mudgeway at the controls of the new A109 Flight Training Device


Seen from the co-pilot’s seat in the high-tech cockpit of an A109 helicopter, the Manawatu countryside passes smoothly below. But suddenly a storm breaks, clouds darken the sky, rain blocks the view and lightning flashes.

Just as you adjust to the new flying conditions, the sky above clears yet fog rolls in—the landmarks all vanish in a sea of white. Rethinking your flight plan, you adjust, check your instruments but again the weather changes. Snow blankets the ground while strong winds blow you off track …. No, this isn’t a typical New Zealand summer’s day; all these rapid weather challenges are the work of the new Flight Training Device, the A109 flight simulator installed at the Helicopter Synthetic Training Centre in Ohakea.

The A109 Flight Training Device (FTD) is a full reproduction of the A109LUH cockpit within a cabin containing a semi-spherical screen and a visual system comprising seven projectors. The visual system displays an external view of the synthetic world on to a 220⁰ x 60° screen. The 8 tonne simulator includes a six axis electro-pneumatic motion system, a seat vibration system and a sound system that models aircraft and environmental sounds. The simulator is capable of simulating flight by day and night, and is Night Vision Goggle compatible. The control station allows the instructor to set and change weather and sea conditions, change the time of day, reposition the aircraft instantly, insert fixed or moving models (e.g. aircraft, vehicles, ships), and inject a wide range of malfunctions and emergencies.

“The FTD is an excellent training platform as it allows high risk exercises (such as engine and other equipment failures) to be conducted safely rather than in the helicopter. It also allows flying training in bad weather and poor visibility conditions as we can simulate the external environment to suit our training requirements. The days of ‘bending skids’ [ie students making heavy landings] in the Hueys have now gone,” says WGCDR Shaun Sexton, CO of the Helicopter Transition Unit.

Using the Helicopter Synthetic Training Centre, the Air Force’s new helicopter training system provides the RNZAF with a cost effective means of training A109 aircrew and those destined to fly the NH90 and SH-2G helicopters. Computer-based training in the Virtual Interactive Procedures Trainer (VIPT) enables pilots to learn procedures before entering the FTD (simulator); The FTD itself will be used for 50% of the necessary flying training - but at 10% of the cost – before the new pilot experiences the actual A109 aircraft.

For example, the transition course from UH-1H (Huey) to the A109 requires the students to learn the systems on the procedural trainer, the VIPT, then undergo 40 hours in the FTD with only 40 hours actually flying the A109.

“The simulator cost EUR9.3M and it has an expected service life of at least 30 years. It will provide approximately 1400 hours of training per year but it has the capacity to provide in excess of twice this, if required. At the planned rate, the simulator will effectively pay for itself in less than five years,” said AVM Stockwell, after the opening ceremony.

AgustaWestland, suppliers of the A109 helicopters, also provided both the FTD (Flight Simulator) and the Virtual Interactive Procedure Trainer. The VIPT is a PC-based system that replicates the A109 cockpit using touch screens and allows training in the use of individual systems (e.g. autopilot) and of integrated systems (e.g. how the autopilot affects navigation and flight displays). The VIPT is capable of simulating all aspects of instrument flight using the aircraft’s automatic flight control system.

SQNLDR Chris Moody oversees the VIPT, which allows for 240 possible emergencies to be practiced. “We use the instruction manual for initial learning, the VIPT to teach the interaction with the controls, and for IFR procedural training; then it is the stepping stone to the FTD (Simulator) where the pilot experiences the touch and feel of the actual controls.”

One of the primary functions of the recently introduced A109 helicopters is as a training platform for NH90 (the new tactical lift helicopter) and SH-2G Seasprite helicopter pilots and crewmen. Within the Helicopter Synthetic Training Centre another VIPT has also been installed, for the NH90. SQNLDR Chris Andrew is in charge and he explains that under the NH90 project the RNZAF will not get a ( very expensive) full-function flight simulator for the NH90s, but instead we have an affordable solution with the computer-based NH90 Part Task Trainer integrated into the Centre.

But in the longer term, there is the potential to link the Helicopter Synthetic Training Centre and the A109 FTD with equivalent simulators operated by the Army and Navy. The NZDF has the potential for a virtual helicopter (with the crew actually at Ohakea) taking off from a virtual HMNZS CANTERBURY (at Devonport) and flying missions in Virtual Battlespace 2 software shared by the Army’s simulators— and so multiplying the joint training value of the three services’ existing simulators.

The Opening Ceremony

Mr Des Ashton (MOD) AVM Stockwell, Chief of Air Force, and Philip Smith of AugustaWestland

The Air Force’s new Helicopter Synthetic Training Centre (flight simulator complex) was commissioned on 23 November last year by the Chief of Air Force, AVM Peter Stockwell. At the opening ceremony CAF stated that the facility is the most recent step in standing up our modern Air Force. He acknowledged that AugustaWestland had delivered a first class system, creating a strong partnership with the RNZAF and working in a fully collaborative approach. AVM Stockwell acknowledged the work of SQNLDR Ron Thacker and his team, who are now operating the new system, which is a step up in technology and in cost-effective training.

Des Ashton, Assistant Secretary (Acquisition) for the Ministry of Defence, agreed that the new Training Centre “is the future of flight training”. He says the NZDF will be getting more such simulators across the three armed services. Both CAF and Des Ashton acknowledged the work of WGCDR Patch Nelson, who was the project representative in Milan, Italy.