One of the primary factors in any successful flight simulator training program hinges on the training centre’s ability to meticulously recreate the distinctive feeling of flying a real aircraft. That’s why Full Flight simulators will always be, for many, the gold standard in the industry. But for many training centres, the cost is far too high and the ROI too low. As a result, FTD and FNPT simulators get selected, albeit, somewhat reluctantly.
What’s more, many pilots feel that if they can’t get the credits for flying a simulator then it’s probably not the best training experience, so why bother?
And that’s a valid question. But in this case, perception is far from reality.
In a presentation at the 2017 World Aviation Training Conference and Tradeshow in Orlando, Florida, John Frasca, CEO and President of Frasca Flight Simulation outlined the industry’s problem with the credit system.
If you compare the qualification documents of ATDs and FTD the differences are considerable. The number of pages can run anywhere from 30 to 50 for an ATD. Whereas, the qualification document can be anywhere from 300 to 1500 pages for the FTD L5. Huge difference.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The qualification document for an FFS is 600 to 2000 pages. Not much more than a FTD. And as the graph below reveals, the relative fidelity between the two simulators is actually closer than many believe. This puts the FTD in the same training territory as a full flight simulator.
Until you look at the credits allotted for each (Image from WATS 2017’s presentation by Frasca Flight Simulation).
The subjective evaluations indicate a gap between the capabilities of the simulator and the credits offered that doesn’t make much sense. What is becoming apparent to many in the industry is that FTDs have greatly improved but the credits have stayed the same.
Christian Guibert and Frederic Brigant know all too well about this dichotomy. As training centre manager and technical manager (respectively) for the Heli-Union Training Centre in Angoulem, France, they have been instrumental in bringing high-fidelity, hyper-realistic simulation to the world.
The company has been focused on providing the safest, most effective service to a global roster of clients since 2002. They know that requires the latest technology and the best tools to stay one step ahead of competitors. However, since an FFS wasn’t in the budget, they recently upgraded to the FTD2 simulator type EC135T2+ created by Entrol.
For them, realism has always been the goal and judging by the equipment, Heli-Union delivers. “The cockpit is equipped with a 200 X 70° spherical visual system to totally engage the pilot in the experience, touch sensitive control screens, a weather radar system, ACAS, and the latest generation of GPS GARMIN: GTN 750. We are actually certified for PBN training (LNav and LPV),” exclaims Guibert.
To replicate the motion, the cabin is equipped with D-BOX motion technology recreating the distinct vibrations of a helicopter that are, by all accounts, just like the real thing.
According to Brigant, all pilots want to train in real aircraft. “But once they try the simulator for the first time, they see and feel the difference and never want to leave.”
Adding D-BOX to the mix was definitely a game changer.
“The simulator is completely different with D-BOX. It is considerably more realistic than simulators without motion. The accuracy of the vibrations and authenticity of the movement make the entire training experience much more effective.”
Despite all the sophisticated equipment, the question still remains: why bother if trainees can’t get the credits? For Brigant the answer has as much to do with budget as it does with effectiveness. “The FFS was just too expensive for us. By adding motion to our FTDS, we are able to achieve 80% of the training with only 20% of the budget. Now, our trainees are able to feel the motion cues that otherwise wouldn’t have been there without D-BOX, so the end result is a more responsive pilot with a better sense of what it’s like to be in a real helicopter.”
Guibert concurs: “If you take the credits out of the equation, the motion that D-BOX adds to the simulation completely amplifies the effectiveness of the training. In our opinion, there should be a direct relation to the fidelity of the simulator and the credits you get for training on it.”
The good news is all that may be changing. Many are lobbying hard to close the gap and get credits where credit is due. There are also plans in the works by the Government of France to change its credit system and bring their industry up to speed.
For Brigant and Guibert, it all boils down to remaining competitive by delivering the best, most realistic training experience for their customers. And, until the credit system changes, the accuracy that D-BOX motion systems delivers is one more tool that helps them stay on top of their game.