Eurocopter opens helo sim center for its own

 - May 15, 2008, 9:30 AM

Eurocopter held the grand opening for its new simulator training center, Helisim, in Marignane, France, in late February. By next year the facility will house two FAA/ JAA level-D simulators with four interchangeable cockpits.

Training for the Super Puma family will start with the AS 332L1 next month, and the AS 332L2 will follow in December. Simultaneously, the first Dauphin family cockpit will be the AS 365N2, and the EC 155 cockpit will arrive in June next year.

According to Helisim’s president, Guy Dabadie, the facility features the only flight simulators in the world for these Eurocopter models, except the AS 332L1. “These four cockpits will represent 1,000 in-service rotorcraft,” he said. Ultimately, Helisim should be able to train 1,000 pilots by means of 10,000 hr of simulation per year (5,000 hr annually on each simulator). The company plans to reach this number of hours in 2004.

The Thales-manufactured simulators feature six-axis motion and a new visual collimated display. The latter reproduces the visual scene with “realistic depth-of-cues” and ensures that the pilot and copilot have exactly the same view.

The field of vision is 200 deg by 60 deg. Noise (from the engines, raindrops and so on) and vibration (from the helicopter itself and turbulence) are also simulated. The database includes southwestern France but also oil rigs, desert scenes and moving objects such as ships and aircraft.

The two simulators can be linked together to train for formation flights. Special effects such as rising sand and strong sea surface (up to level 6 for deck operations) are available. However, sling-load simulation has not been developed so far, according to Patrick Moulay, Helisim’s marketing and sales director. All cockpits can accommodate two pilots, one flight engineer, one observer and one instructor. Interchanging cockpits takes two hours, Dabadie said.

Moulay told AIN that the cost of one flight hour on the Super Puma simulator is about 40 percent of that on the actual rotorcraft. Average price for one simulated flight hour is close to e1,500 ($1,300). Yves Michot, president of minority shareholder Défense Conseil International (DCI), pointed out that Eurocopter has been training pilots on its aircraft for 40 years and said training would now take place “80 percent in the simulator and 20 percent in the actual helicopter.”

The joint venture is studying the possibility of offering additional cockpits–such as the EC 135 and EC 145, as well as an EC 225 add-on kit on the Super Puma cockpit. According to Moulay, the modest operating costs of helicopters in the lower segment of the market do not make simulator training cost effective. In the future, Helisim may even add a third simulator–there is provisional room for it in the facility–with a larger field of vision.

Helisim also offers ground courses, computer-based trainers and a cockpit procedures trainer–the latter for the AS 332L2 Super Puma only. These items can be mixed into different training packages–type rating, recurrent emergency procedures training, recurrent IFR training, instrument flight training, technical flight training (specific maintenance flights performed after periodic inspections) and cockpit resource  management.

Helisim said it can also customize its courses. Additionally, the simulators can be rented on a “dry” basis, meaning without a Helisim instructor. The customer’s instructor must take a “Helisim instructor training course” before the first dry training session.

Helisim civil mission training courses include offshore training for operations around oil rigs, search-and-rescue operations, VIP flights (with rooftop and deck operations), emergency medical services (with crossroad operations and the possibility of using night vision goggles) and deck operations.

The first contract was signed with the Royal Netherlands Air Force for Cougar training (the Cougar is the military version of the Super Puma). According to Helisim, civil contracts should follow soon because “most of the offshore operators have expressed a strong interest.”

Helisim was founded in early 2000 as a joint venture with three shareholders: Eurocopter (45 percent); Thales Training and Simulation (45 percent); and DCI (10 percent). Fifteen people, including six instructors, five maintenance technicians and four in the sales and management division, currently work in the $59 million facility. The number of employees should reach 25 eventually.

According to Dabadie, the former Eurocopter flight test center chief test pilot, a major reason for setting up the training center was “the strong demand from customers.” Jean-François Bigay, Eurocopter’s president, insisted that many helicopter operators want to subcontract some activities, such as training. Both said Helisim was a means of reinforcing customer relations by having them visit Marseilles regularly.