Missions at sea, in mountainous regions or close to skyscrapers are extremely risky for helicopter pilots. The turbulent air flows near oil rigs, ships, cliffs and tall buildings can throw a helicopter off balance and cause a crash.To provide pilots with optimal preparation for these challenging conditions, engineers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are developing new simulation software.
Providing helicopter pilots with the best possible preparation for extreme situations is the goal of the new simulation software being developed by researchers working at TUM's Chair of Helicopter Technology. For the first time, real-time computational analysis will be implemented for both fluid mechanics and flight dynamics. The team have developed a simulation program that combines flow mechanics and flight dynamics in real time.
"The numerical model is extremely flexible and does not depend on stored flow data. We only have to enter the external conditions such as topography, global wind speeds and the helicopter type," commented Dr. Juergen Rauleder. "During the simulation, our algorithms use that data to continuously compute the interacting flow field at the virtual helicopter's current location."
The new program also lets pilots instantly "feel" the impact of the local air flows on the helicopter. This allows them to try out the effects of their control movements in a stress-free situation. The potential of this method has attracted international interest, including from the US Office of Naval Research, which is contributing funding under the auspices of its basic research program.
The TUM researchers have successfully validated the new real-time simulation with established reference models. All that is left to do is the biggest test of all - the reality check. To find out whether the virtual models actually reflect conditions at sea, the engineers are cooperating with researchers at the US Naval Academy, the George Washington University and the University of Maryland.
"The validation of the models and testing of our simulation environment by experienced pilots in our research simulator is enormously important for our developments," said Rauleder. "That's the only way we can ensure that the simulator training provides student pilots with optimal preparation for tough missions."