Eurocopter Southern Africa Limited has commissioned the first full-motion helicopter flight simulator in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg and the South African Air force is already contracted to use 1000 of 2000 to 3000 hours available per year.
The simulator, formerly owned by the Swiss Air Force, is designed to train pilots and flight engineers operating AS332 Super Puma and similarly compatible helicopters, including the SAAF’s Oryx medium utility helicopter, is located at the Sim Aerotraining centre adjacent to the O.R. Tambo International Airport.
It amounts to a “proper recreation of the Super Puma flight dynamic”, ESAL CE Fabrice Cagnat told journalists at a media briefing yesterday. “We aim to continuously improve and enhance flight safety and crew skills. By placing simulators as close as possible to our customers we are able to provide training programs tailored to their specific needs. We are confident that the simulator will add significant value, not just in terms of monetary savings for the SAAF, but in real terms, measured in terms of peoples’ lives are saved,” Cagnat added in a statement issued after the briefing. “And positioning the simulator in Johannesburg, where it is easy to come and train, is an attractive proposition for all other Super Puma operators. We have already received a strong interest from operators from Africa but also from other part of the world,” he added. This included Asia and South America where similar facilities are currently lacking, he continued.
“By using a full-motion flight simulator, crew are able to refine their skills by training for all conceivable emergencies and mission scenarios, including some which would be too dangerous or not permissible to attempt during training flights on actual helicopters.” They can also train mountain operations, search-and-rescue as well as flying with night vision goggles. SAAF acting Director: Helicopter Systems, Colonel Hardus Engelbrecht, added Rooivalk and AgustaWestland A109 light utility aircraft would also use the simulator. The latter also has twin engines while the former has similar flight characteristics to the Oryx. Current planning is that in excess of 140 pilots and flight engineers will train on the system every year. Engelbrecht averred that crews needed 12 hours of emergency training per year, currently all done on real aircraft. He hoped this could be reduced to three with perhaps up to nine on the simulator.
Cagnat noted simulation cost a fraction of actual cost, in this instance 25%. This, he said, meant that for the same budget four times as many crews could undergo rigorous training. It is an “excellent ratio of performance versus cost.” In addition, the actual platform’s life is extended as it is increasingly used for “true missions”. There is less “waste” of flying potential on training. Engelbrecht continued this meant more airframes available for operations on a given day. Up to now South Africa has had to send pilots to Europe to train on simulators there. This implied added budget spent on travel, accommodation and visa costs as well as a stipend for each person and no-show cancellation fees. It is now possible to replace crews that have become unavailable at short notice.
For the SAAF, the focus is foremost on providing upliftment of aircrew skills,” added Engelbrecht. “This is achieved by a combination of factors which allow trainees to forget that they are in a simulator and not the real aircraft. These are primarily a combination of accurate movements driven by hydraulically driven jacks that push, pull and tilt a replica helicopter cockpit, against which foreground imagery is projected”.
Cagnat further explained ESAL has contracted Sim Aerotraining to operate and maintain the simulator, while Eurocopter sold simulator hours. “We could not have done it ourselves in a cost-competative manner,” he said. Even though previously owned, it amounted to an investment of several million Rand in the South African economy.