Pursuing its goal of bringing training as close as possible to the end user, Thales now has an operational rotary wing training centre based in the French Alps. Co-located with the Service Aerien Francais (SAF) at Albertville, France, this is the centre of gravity of SAF, a provider of helicopter-based Search and Rescue services for the Alps. The centre was also conceived as a unique joint training facility for the French, Swiss and Italian helicopter mountain rescue services. Using their own Thales-built EC 135 T2, the reach of SAF has extended beyond that original goal, and now embraces training for offshore rotary operations and other SAR and EMS scenarios. Such was the demand for this, that Thales has installed and now operates another FFS alongside the SAF unit, this time an AS 350 B3.

Live training of the critically demanding operating conditions encountered during real SAR operations can carry a higher risk than most other situations, and it is here where realistic simulation can provide equivalent training without that level of risk. Thales is using its new technology to achieve this - the hardware is the Hexaline 6 axis all-electric motion system, and this is coupled to the 210 x 70 field of view visual system. One of the benefits of being part of a much larger organisation with access to major databases, is that this has led to the adoption of a military-derived terrain mapping capability. The visual system presently uses a resolution of 1 metre, but this will improve with updates to a resolution of 30 centimetres - already used for a number of specific training zones in France. The software for the extended range of operations and flight envelope has also been developed in house. Data for this was derived from precise measurement and recording of real-time performance of the aircraft, so providing an excellent lead-in to full operation.

The fidelity of the systems is such that EASA, through the French DGAC, has approved training credits, particularly in the afore-mentioned toughest training scenarios, not just for recurrent training, but also for parts of the Initial Type Rating. Other authorities around the world have also recognised that approval, and customers from Angola and India have already completed their training. The co-location with SAF means that there is ready access to the aircraft and the mountainous terrain to complete the practical training with live exercises.

Jean-Jacques Guittard, president, Thales Training and Simulation, spoke to CAT of the plan to introduce Thales helicopter training during an interview at the Paris Le Bourget show in 2013. This is the first step, and the roll out will continue later this year with the opening of an additional facility at Stavanger, Norway. This latter base will concentrate on training in support of offshore oil and gas operations. Further ahead, a training centre in Australia is due to open in 2016. He points out that not only has this extended training capability been quickly picked up by the SAR community, but that, because of its level of fidelity, private owners and pilots are keen to get the robust training which this can provide, and which cannot be accessed through traditional helicopter training organisations.

Given the predicted increase in helicopter operations worldwide, there is a very strong argument to continue to extend the reach of this form of training - the prospect is for considerable future growth.

Note: One slightly off-centre application of the Hexaline motion system is its adaptation as a training machine for the French national rugby team, who use it to train the scrum techniques. Given that this prepares them to push against an equal number of players from the other team, Hexaline is quite prepared to push back, even replicating the uneven effort from opposing players and reacts in real time to the efforts of the French team. Background noise is also applied, to replicate the stadium, but one wonders how it will emulate the "Haka" war dance of the New Zealand All Black Team? – Chris Long