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AS365N3 Helicopter FFS Simulator Training at HUTC

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Through Wind, Rain, Clouds and Snow…

For 10 hours a year all of our pilots have the opportunity to fly in all of these conditions and more, in the usual clear skies of the Cote d’Azur thanks to the simulator.

I set off from the Isle of Man to France, heading North of Bordeaux to my destination of Heli Union Training Centre (HUTC) in the rural setting of rolling hills surrounding Angoulême-Cognac airfield. HUTC is home to the only AS365N3 FFS (Full Flight Simulator) in Europe, and is certified by the DGAC and EASA. I’m here to join our Chief Pilot, Alain Viard to sit in on one of his annual slots at HUTC.

08:45: Thierry Vermeersch, the head of simulator department leads our pre-flight brief as Alain’s instructor and sim operator for the day. Following our 15 minute brief we head through the two sets of fire proof doors, into a huge double height room home to the simulator. Resembling something similar to a round water tower mounted on hydraulic actuators (legs to you and I). The room isn’t big enough to be able to capture a photo of this behemoth, which at full height extends to 3 metres above the ground.

We climb the steps and enter the simulator which was dimly lit. The darkness of the space was illuminated by the control panels, screens and the instruments. Inside there is the full front portion of the N3 complete with cockpit, jettison doors, and the distinctive dauphin nose. The cockpit faces a curved screen which wraps around the aircraft and upon which the simulation is projected.

I’m instructed to strap-in as you normally would in a live aircraft, then to put on my headset in order to communicate with Alain and Thierry. The FFS recreates the sounds as well as the movements and changing views you would experience in live flying.

As Alain starts up the aircraft, Thierry begins the simulation, we are transported to runway 13L at Marseille airport. The simulated building’s are 3D – outside the Airbus factory you can see the helicopters parked on the spots  next to the fire department’s Canadair floatplanes – which are now no longer based at MRS but all add to the ‘real’ feeling. The first exercise is straight forward to acclimatise, but not long into the second exercise Thierry presents Alain with an engine flame out, the warning lights flash in the panel in front of us, we hear the audio alert and see the needles drop on the instruments – it all feels very real.

A series of engine failures ensue over the course of the simulation. Aircraft appear in the distance and I’m told that they are always automatically set on a collision path! Thierry demonstrates the different flying conditions he is able simulate; flying through snow, which is also reflected by the white blanket which has appeared on the ground. While flying through the rain, we hear the sound of rain hitting the windscreen. Emerging from the dense clouds, flying through the sunset into night time.

Next Thierry instructs Alain to land on a frigate which has been positioned off the coast of Marseille. As we come closer you can make out two stationary figures on the deck waiting to greet us. We land by day, but the take off is by night, closely followed by a controlled ditching into the sea. The impact from the water is obvious but not hard, and after the floats are deployed we bob with the swell of the sea.

At HUTC  the simulated area is concentrated on the South of France, beyond that, its not like the ‘Truman Show’ as I had thought it might be, instead, outside the available area the ground is just blue screen but the rest of the simulation doesn’t change.

 

 

As we are drawing to the end of the two hour slot, Alain tells me that he is going to give me the controls after asking if I had ever flown a helicopter the answer was no, “not even a fixed wing?”, “No, never” I told him that the closest I came was that I can drive a car. During the 15 minutes I was in control I just about managed a hover (with Alain’s assistance), took off from Marseille, flew around and managed to land – it was bumpy, but wasn’t a crash!

In the simulator, you can land anywhere you like, as long as there is space to do so – no permits, or special permissions like in reality! You can practise the same approach as many times as you like, and you can train for scenarios which simply aren’t possible during live training. The simulator doesn’t let you get away with things that wouldn’t be achievable in reality, it has pre-programmed criteria that must be fulfilled in order that it can determine if the area you have landed in was big enough, or whether any landing is a crash or not. Whilst we didn’t crash during this slot I’m told they can feel very realistic, and aren’t comfortable.

The two hours flew by, and after my first time at the controls I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. There is no doubt that this is an invaluable training tool for our crew, and that they are very well looked after by all the team at HUTC.

Article is by Kerry Walker, our Operations Manager.

For more information about  the FFS AS365N3 Simulator visit the HUTC website. Heli Union also offer a EC135 FTD simulator at their facility and provide a PBN course. PBN will become a requirement for all pilot’s holding an IFR rating by August 2020.

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