In the Name of Safety

Canadian Helicopters Introduces Dynamic New SIM
Rick Adams
January 26, 2017
By Rick Adams
When pilots of the Airbus Helicopter AS350 train in the new HNZ Topflight simulator at the Alberta Aerospace Training Centre in Edmonton, they may literally come to “the end of their rope.”


The device includes a unique “cargo mirror,” a flat screen monitor which enables the pilot-in-training to look backward under the simulated aircraft to view the skids and cargo hook. However, if the pilot forgets he or she is still hooked, the SIM will only allow them to fly about 15 feet – for example, the end of the long line, before the visual system turns into the “red screen of death.”

“These helicopters do multi-role missions: one mission they’re slinging, the next they’re moving passengers,” explained Mark Olson, FTD manager for HNZ. “There have been aircraft incidents where guys have taken off and the long line has still been attached. They have literally forgotten they were slinging in the chaos of changing the role.”

In the SIM, the instructor can toggle the long line capability on and off, and Olson said, “We brief them (pilots) on it, but in the heat of the moment when they’re doing multiple takeoffs, it’s like real life – you get distracted by what’s going on around you and haven’t seen that the long line is still attached to the cargo hook.”

Developed by Frasca International, the device is the first Level 7 helicopter FTD physically in the Dominion to be approved by Transport Canada (TC). “Working with the folks in Ottawa, we got a regulatory exemption that allows flight credits to be taken for use inside an approved training program,” Olson noted.

Simulator operators and manufacturers will welcome this decision; until now, high-end FTDs have typically been granted credits similar to lower-level devices by most regulatory agencies. “Now that the devices are out there, the FAA, Transport Canada and others will see the capabilities, and they’re going to start saying, ‘Yes, we can give you this, and yes, we can give you that,’ ” said John Frasca, president and CEO of the Champaign, Ill.-based company. “But the operator has to be the one making the request. HNZ saw enough openness in the authorities to warrant taking that first step.”

The FTD is convertible within 60 to 90 minutes between three different configurations of the aircraft, including the “steam-powered” AS350B2 analog model, AS350B2 VEMD (Vehicle and Engine Multifunction Display), and AS350B3e VEMD, (which Airbus now labels the H125).  Reconfiguration involves instrumental panels, switch consoles, flight controls such as the collective, overhead console and rotor brake. HNZ has more than 60 AS350 helicopters in Canada and 200 pilots.

The high-resolution Frasca TruVision Global eight-channel visual system features a 200-degree horizontal by 70-degree vertical field of view in an enclosed spherical screen. There’s a detailed database of the Edmonton area, which could be used for law enforcement and emergency medical training scenarios, as well as databases of coastal, artic, and other airports that HNZ flies into.

The most detailed gaming area depicts large parts of the U.S. state of Oregon, a Frasca standard offer. It features a variety of terrain types, from ocean shores to forested mountains, as well as rivers, power lines and towers. Olson calls it “a really good operational area for a VFR pilot,” which he says is more applicable to single-engine operations. “Guys fly helicopters into places they have no business being, so we want to try to influence the decision-making aspects of piloting an aircraft.”

The new $3.5 million simulator has been attracting considerable public interest since it’s located in the Edmonton International Airport’s main terminal building on the mezzanine level above security check-in for departures. Visitors to the observation deck can’t miss the large dome and racks of computers.

Another advantage of the airport location is that pilots can fly in and be at the simulator within 15 minutes of landing. If an overnight stay is appropriate, there’s a hotel there, too.

HNZ also has AS350 trainer aircraft and a dedicated training area on the airport property.

“We want to give all pilots an opportunity to take advantage this great new training device,” noted Sylvain Seguin, vice president and chief operating officer at Canadian Helicopters, an HNZ company. “Whenever we have an opportunity to enhance safety in helicopter operations, we will strive to do so.”


Rick Adams is chief perspective officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy in the south of France, and is the editor of ICAO Journal.


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