On the Fast Track at Silverline Helicopters

FLYIT simulator saves students time and money
Neil Macdougall
July 09, 2007
By Neil Macdougall
190-simulateCharter and student pilot prospects are better informed and more cost-conscious than ever, forcing helicopter operators to continually seek ways to be competitive and profitable. Silverline Helicopters Inc. of Holland Landing, Ontario thinks its newish FLYIT professional helicopter simulator will give it an edge.

“The simulator gives students extra value for their money. Already we find that students who have been shopping around and know the costs stay to train,” says Ian Rogers, Silverline’s president.

“You notice a definite benefit to the students,” adds Andri Harasym, chief pilot. “After experiencing the simulator, they have an understanding of the fundamentals. They grasp things quicker when they get in the helicopter. Students can hover after only three hours in the simulator. That’s about two hours less than usual.”

Rogers isn’t concerned that the simulator will reduce helicopter utilization. Rather, it increases the school’s training capacity and reduces the exposure to accidents.

The first in Canada, the California made simulator can simulate the Bell 206, Eurocopter AStar, Hughes 269, 300C and 500, Robinson R22, R44 and Schweizer 300. TRK Helicopters of Langley, BC was the second Canadian firm to buy the simulator.

Silverline’s simulator is housed in an 18-foot trailer that can be towed to customer sites for recurrent training or pilot proficiency checks. It has been taken to private schools to spark interest in helicopter flying careers. The trailer plugs into a wall socket or can be powered by a generator. A permanent installation is a more costly alternative.

The simulator rents for $100 per hour (formerly $60 VFR and $100 IFR), compared to $400 for a typical 2-seat helicopter. (Prices for the simulator at American schools average US$105 per hour for VFR and US$230 for IFR, according to the manufacturer.) Even at Silverline’s increased VFR rate, the simulator may reduce the cost of a private pilot’s licence by $1,000. Transport Canada allows five hours FTD or simulator time toward both a pilot’s licence and an instrument rating.

Private pilot students are usually either 18-year olds or successful business people. They earn their licences in 50 to 55 hours, while Transport Canada’s minimum is 45 hours. Commercial pilot candidates are 70% of trainees. They’re ready for their flight tests in 75-80 hours, well before Transport Canada’s minimum of 100 hours. Money saved by using the simulator is apt to be used to increase employability by training in slinging, bucketing, long-lining, hover deplaning, advanced pads and confined areas. Peter Curry, chief flying instructor, said: “It will also save money for high-time fixed-wing pilots, who sometimes find it hard to break old habits.”

That described me.

I found the two-seat cockpit realistic, with its contoured seats, full-size stick and collective, central console and simulated canopy bow. Generic knobs, switches and King avionics are on a central console but the 21-inch monitor displays full-size instruments for the selected helicopter type. The out-of-the-window view continues below your feet, as in a real helicopter.

Upon start, the stick vibrates noticeably and the noise level varies with the power setting. The difference in cruise and climb performance between types is most noticeable. However, control pressures are the same for each aircraft type. Changes in trim can be corrected with the electric trim.

In flight, the 93" by 78" screen gives an impressive sense of movement. However, a very low flight over an idling Cessna 172 didn’t cause the light plane to rock. Like all simulators, close-up detail is l lacking.

The software is that home favourite, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002, running on a Pentium 3 computer. Here, Flight Simulator is not a toy but a highly suitable component of an effective device. Some 22,000 worldwide airports and navigation aids are in the database, including such intriguing spots as 108 Mile Airport, BC and Arthur East, Ontario. The operator can enter scenery that mimics his own base.

An instructor can follow the flight from beside the student or from a monitor equipped seat in the rear of the trailer. From either location, he or she can fail systems, instruments and radios, change wind, temperature, dew point, barometric pressure, turbulence, visibility (down to 1/16 of a mile), precipitation, ceiling and even cloud layers. An entire flight can be played back, or controls can be frozen in order to review manoeuvres.

Pendulum action, dynamic rollover, vortex ring state, wind effect on hovering, transitional lift and hovering in and out of ground effect can be demonstrated.

Almost everyone calls the FLYIT a simulator. Transport Canada (and the US Federal Aviation Administration) insist that simulators move. Stationary versions are called ‘flight training devices’. The FLYIT is rated as an FTD level 2, which classes it with those desktop machines whose dinky screens are crowded with both an instrument panel and the sky. Five minutes in the FLYIT will convince anyone that it is superior to some $500,000 FTDs, making it a genuine breakthrough.

Silverline Helicopters spent about US$100,000 on its simulator and is gathering data from ab initio students to quantify the savings. The FLYIT was bought for the company’s training program, but Silverline also does charters, maintenance and, as the Schweizer dealer for Ontario and Manitoba, sales. Established in 1999, the company operates two Schweizer 300Cs, a Eurocopter EC120 and a Bell 206B. Its staff of eight operates from a private (although open to the public) airfield that is a 45-minute drive north of Toronto.

To give potential students a feel for piloting, Silverline offers an introductory course on the effects of the controls and, unusually, autorotation and hovering. Three hours in a Schweizer and at least as much ground instruction costs $1,000, a discount of more than $200. “Many students receive the course as a gift; 70% of those who previously knew the cost of commercial training ($40,000 to $50,000) sign up after taking the course,” Rogers says.

Like Pro IFR in Boundary Bay, BC, Silverline is one of perhaps two Canadian schools to do instrument training in piston helicopters. Pilots of turbine machines can save about $400 per hour by doing their PPCs on piston helicopters.

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