Eurocopter’s training offshoot adds EC225 sim

 - December 31, 2008, 4:45 AM

Marignane, France-based Helisim has started operating the first EC 225 Super Puma flight simulator, which was to be EASA certified as a level-D simulator late last month. The company, a joint venture among Eurocopter, Thales and DCI, is positioning itself to meet demand for simulator training as the world’s helicopter fleet grows. Some 80 percent of Helisim’s civil customers are offshore-oil transport operators.

The new flight simulator meets European JAR FSTD 1H standards and includes a full motion system with six degrees of freedom and simulation of all optional equipment. The field of view is 200 degrees horizontally and 60 degrees vertically. Moreover, pilots can train for operations with night vision goggles, Helisim CEO Guy Dabadie noted during the inauguration of the sim. FAA certification is pegged for this year. According to Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling, the OEM supplied data for the simulator’s design.

Helisim now offers five helicopter cockpits. Three are in the Super Puma series (EC 225, AS 332 L1 and L2) and two in the Dauphin series (AS 365 N2 and EC 155). Each can be rolled into one of two full-flight simulator domes or a level-3 flight training device (FTD) cabin. This means that, while three cockpits are in operation, the other two sit on the ground. Helisim is considering using them for familiarization purposes.

According to Dabadie, the FTD meets a higher-than-average standard. Its cockpit, rather than being generic, is that of a level-D simulator. Moreover, although not capable of motion, it has a vibrating floor that simulates the aircraft’s vibration and, when landing, the touchdown.

On full-flight simulators, the hourly operating cost is close to half that of the actual aircraft. “To be attractive, you need to be slightly under 50 percent of the real aircraft’s operating cost,” Dabadie explained. This is why full simulators are usually for medium to heavy helicopters, not light ones. It is much more difficult, therefore, to make a business case for an AgustaWestland AW119 Koala or a Eurocopter AS 350 Ecureuil sim. While there is a significant price difference between an EC 225 and an Ecureuil single, there is not such a difference in the cost of their simulators.

But price is not everything. For an operator, having pilots training in a simulator eliminates the issue of ensuring that an aircraft is available. In addition, weather is not a factor when planning simulator training.

Thales hopes Helisim will install its new visual database into its simulators late this year. According to Thales’ simulation product manager Jean-Claude Pietrement, one enhancement is light simulation. The new database takes into account the light’s origin–whether it comes from the east or another direction or whether it travels through clouds, for example. “New algorithms calculate where energy comes from and thus give more accuracy to light representation,” Pietrement said. These algorithms have been developed for better sensor simulation (NVGs and infrared) on the NH90 military transport and yield better daylight simulation, too.

AIN understands Helisim is likely to be the future location of the first EC 175 simulator, planned to enter service with the helicopter in 2012. Ideally, a flight simulator should be certified before a helicopter to give pilots time to train before delivery. However, as one Helisim executive explained, this would involve starting development of the simulator at least two years before the aircraft’s certification. In this case, the company runs the risk of late aircraft design changes that affect the simulator and significantly increase costs. As a result, simulator makers usually wait until the aircraft’s certification process is well under way.

Helisim claims to train 2,400 pilots every year. Its simulators thus “fly” 10,000 hours a year. On average, one trained pilot flies six to 10 hours a year, according to Dabadie.

Helisim has a customer base of 115 operators; about 60 percent of them are civil businesses, while the military accounts for the rest.