Helicopters Magazine

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Mission Focused

March 8, 2011  By Peter Pigott

Nestled in the British countryside, some 10 miles from the historic city of Oxford is RAF Benson.

Nestled in the British countryside, some 10 miles from the historic city of Oxford is RAF Benson.

Helicopter pilots typically come to the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility to spend three weeks in ground school and three to four weeks in the simulator. (Photos courtesy of CAE)


Home to squadrons that operate Eurocopter SA330 Pumas and AW101 Merlins, it also houses the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF). The MSHATF is owned and operated by CAE under contract to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. Besides classrooms, conference rooms and offices, the $158-million-plus facility houses six CAE full-motion helicopter simulators – two for the Merlin, one for the Puma and three for the Boeing Chinook. As soon as they complete basic training, helicopter pilots come to the MSHATF to typically spend three weeks in ground school and three to four weeks in the simulator. Such is the degree of simulation that a week after they graduate, they are off to Afghanistan.

That the facility operates five days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is fully occupied is an indication of how essential are the services it provides. It is not only that helicopter usage in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased dramatically for the NATO allies, but also that search-and-rescue (SAR), coastguard and medevac roles at home have increased as well.


Between 25 per cent and 33 per cent of helicopter training is presently done on simulators, depending on the type of helicopter. For the RAF, 68 per cent of conversion training on the Merlin is synthetic. The advantages of simulation-based training over live training are that it is safer, it enables realistic mission planning and rehearsal, it is more environmentally friendly, it is highly “immersive” in operational experience and finally, it is much more economical – it provides training at one-tenth of the cost of live flying. With the budget restraints that the U.K. is going through while still having to meet its commitments in Afghanistan, the last advantage is especially valid.

The CAE Tactical Control Centre in Oxford, U.K., has two Merlin simulators.


CAE helicopter mission simulators feature unprecedented realism for helicopter-specific mission training, including offshore, emergency medical services, law enforcement, longline, high-altitude, corporate, and other operations. The simulator enables pilots to practise challenging procedures without such risks as those associated with low-level flight, confined area operations and autorotation.

The MSHATF’s costs are partially offset for CAE by hiring the facility out to third parties. Of the 10,500 hours “flown” here annually about 1,600 hours are by air arms other than the RAF. Besides the U.K. Ministry of Defence, the CAE facility is also used by helicopter pilots from the Canadian Forces (CH-47D and the CH-149); the Royal Netherlands Air Force (CH-47D); Australian Army Aviation (CH-47D); Royal Danish Air Force (EH-101); Italian Navy (EH-101); Royal Oman Air Force (Puma) and the Japanese Self Defense Force (EH-101).

With the RAF, Australian and Canadian Chinook (CH-47D) pilots do their pre-Afghanistan training here. To improve their pre-deployment training the facility has two visual databases depicting Afghanistan – one as a mountainous terrain and the other a dusty plain typical of the countryside.

As Canadian Forces’ Griffon pilots know well, it is the latter terrain that poses problems because of the amount of dust kicked up by the rotors. The “dusty plain” simulation takes the pilots through the whole brownout process, allowing them to practise set approaches with no loss of life or machine. Each mission at Benson is designed to give pilots what they would expect in theatre – including coping with exposure to enemy fire – small arms and RPGs in the “hot” landing zones.

Pilots who have been in Afghanistan also regularly return to the MSHATF to keep the instructors updated on changing conditions in theatre and how well their pre-deployment simulation training worked.

Like the CH-47D pilots, Canadian Forces Cormorant pilots do their full-flight simulator training at the MSHATF, although the Canadian Forces also have a lower level training device for the CH-149 that was built by Atlantis Systems International.


Simultaneous with the Lynx Mk8 maritime helicopter fleet upgrade in the Royal Navy, CAE UK plc completed a major upgrade of the CAE-built Lynx Mk8 Full-Mission Simulator (FMS), and delivered a new Lynx Cockpit Procedures Trainer (LCPT) and a CAE Simfinity System-Based Trainer (SBT) to the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) in Yeovilton, U.K. The total package gave the Royal Navy a comprehensive suite of synthetic training devices in support of the Lynx Mk8 maritime helicopter. The simulator upgrade meets the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Flight Simulator and Synthetic Training (FsAST) Project Team requirement to incorporate the second-generation anti-jamming tactical UHF radio for NATO (called SATURN), replacement of the central tactical system, the new Successor Identification Friend or Foe (SIFF) system and the latest Defensive Aid Suite (DAS) into the training devices. With the full complement of training devices, the Lynx Mk8 helicopter crews are fully trained to meet current and future operational commitments.

The Tactical Control Centre at the CAE training facility in Oxford, U.K. The MSHATF is owned and operated by CAE under contract to the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence. (Photo courtesy of CAE)


As these are maritime helicopters, the simulation can recreate layered fog, 3-D puffy clouds, falling snow, rain, hail, blowing effects – both brownout and whiteout with snow, sand or dust. It also has a library of storm fronts, 3-D waves, whitecaps, ship wakes, blowing flames, and smoke and water “recirculation.”

“The suite of synthetic training equipment is a very welcome and much-needed capability,” said Commander Nigel Amphlett, Royal Navy Commander, Lynx Helicopter Force. “Not only does it enhance the output of the operational conversion unit, it improves the operational effectiveness of the front line.”

Leading the Way CAE is a world leader in providing simulation training with 29 training centres that include Montreal, Tampa (Florida), Stolberg (Germany), Sydney (Australia), RAF Benson (U.K.), Sesto Calende, Italy and Singapore. In India for example, CAE and Hindustan Aircraft Ltd. have established a joint venture company called the Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF). In 2010, HATSOFF began operations at a new helicopter-training centre in Bangalore. The HATSOFF training centre includes a CAE-built full-mission helicopter simulator that features CAE’s revolutionary roll-on/roll-off cockpit design, which enables cockpits representing various helicopter types to be used in the simulator. The first training program HATSOFF is offering is for operators of the Bell 412 helicopter. Additional cockpits for the Indian Army/Air Force variant of the HAL-built Dhruv, the civil variant of the Dhruv, and the Eurocopter Dauphin will also be added to the HATSOFF training centre.

 CAE’s $158-million-plus facility in Oxford, U.K., houses six full-motion helicopter simulators – two for the Merlin (shown here), one for the Puma and three for the Boeing Chinook. (Photo courtesy of CAE)


But simulating rotary-wing aircraft and designing a training program to meet a customer’s training objectives are major challenges. Helicopters maintain unique characteristics in areas such as aerodynamics and vibration that make high-fidelity simulation a difficult task. CAE image generators (IGs) enhance the realism of pilot training through extensive use of advanced weather simulation, including wind conditions, lighting and variable visibility, realistic animation of rotor downwash and recirculation effects, high-density urban environments, moving objects and people, geographically correct landmarks and offshore structures, 3-D sea states. They also draw from a worldwide database derived from satellite imagery.


When accurately simulated, vibrations combine with visual and sound system cues to ensure the aircrew develops proper control strategies while experiencing representative workloads. Vibrations in helicopters, in addition to creating a harsh operating environment, provide the aircrew with rotor dynamic feedback critical to its ability to control the aircraft. CAE’s high-performance 3-DOF (degree-of-freedom) vibration platform, installed under the cockpit, subjects the entire cockpit to vibration cues that are validated with actual helicopter recorded data.


CAE’s Blade Element Rotor Model (BERM) is the basis for modelling the blade aerodynamic characteristics of all helicopters. The BERM models the complex airflow around the rotating airfoils and accurately simulates the blade hinge and hub articulation, as well as all of the power-drive linkages. In addition, the accurate simulation of blade malfunctions is a fundamental and integral part of the BERM.


The CAE Medallion-6000 series is the latest member in CAE’s powerful Medallion image generator family. The series combines the proven, industry-leading feature set and image quality of previous CAE Medallion visual systems with the power and capabilities of the latest commercial-off-the-shelf graphics processors. The CAE Medallion-6000 provides a highly modular, scalable and portable visual solution designed to satisfy the full range of military training needs, particularly for low-level helicopter simulation applications.


Ground handling simulation has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects of flight simulation. To achieve simulation fidelity in crosswind takeoff, landing on sloping terrain, or taxiing on different surfaces, the interaction of the helicopter’s tires and landing gear with the ground must be accurately simulated. CAE has developed advanced ground handling models that faithfully simulate the helicopter’s on-ground directional stability and control characteristics.


The Common Database (CDB) was a CAE-led development originally for the United States Special Operations Command. This database architecture is designed to significantly reduce the timeline it takes to get a fully correlated database in operation within a range of training and mission rehearsal systems. Correlation of multiple databases in varying formats has been one of the major obstacles facing military forces wanting to practise and rehearse missions in simulation. The CDB architecture effectively removes this obstacle by allowing all users, or “clients,” of the data required to access the information from a common database source and do so in real time. These clients include not only the out-the-window visual scene in a simulator, but also other systems in the simulator requiring data, such as sensors, computer-generated forces and communications systems.

No other company has designed training systems for a greater variety of rotary-wing platforms. CAE has simulated helicopters from virtually all the major manufacturers. As its Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) in the U.K. proves, the Montreal-based company is a world leader in helicopter simulation.

Mechtronix: Another Success Story
Another Montreal-based simulator company that is realizing international
success in the rotary-wing market is Mechtronix Systems, an MWC
Company. Mechtronix specializes in the design and manufacture of flight
simulation training devices for general, business and commercial
aviation. With more than 20 years of innovative leadership in the global
flight simulation and training market, Mechtronix Systems’ customer
base is present in America, Europe and Asia. Following a first order
from Bell Helicopter, the company entered the simulator commercial
helicopter market to meet the demand for low-cost training devices, for
which Mechtronix Systems’ technology and industrial process were
perfectly suited.

Bell Helicopter followed with a second order for a Bell 412EP Full
Flight Trainer. The simulator was qualified level 5 under FAA
regulations and is used for entry-level pilots for cockpit
familiarization and to introduce rotary-wing aircraft handling skills at
the initial stages of training. This unit is currently being used to
satisfy the training needs of a Chilean helicopter operator. 

Mechtronix Systems’ success in the commercial and business aviation
markets is rooted in three basic principles: instituting in-house global
production to reduce costs, providing customer support service to
ensure a perfect transition from the production floor to the customer
facility, and ensuring fidelity of existing customers. 

“One of our strengths lies in our ability to create strong relationships
with our customers. These allow us to have a deep understanding of the
type of training tools our market needs and allow us to produce the most
realistic simulators,” explains Xavier Hervé, president and COO of
Mechtronix Systems.


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