Regardless of age or condition, military rotorcraft require well-trained pilots and crews. With defence budgets squeezed, this often means more simulation and contractor training. MS&T Editor Rick Adams looks at developing procurements and technologies.

Old airframes never die. Some just get new avionics.

The UH-60 Black Hawk, originally designated the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft dating to the mid-1970s, and the even-older late-50s CH-47 Chinook are still mainstays of the US Army helicopter fleet. Variants have seen action in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Boeing lists 25 different countries as Chinook operators, including Iran and Libya. And there are Black Hawks operating in Australia, Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Colombia, Israel, Mexico, Slovakia, Sweden and Turkey.

Many of those aircraft are still “steam gauge,” and L3 Link Training and Simulation hopes to take advantage of the residual training need – within the next few weeks, they’ll open a new training centre adjacent to their Arlington, Texas headquarters with UH-60L and CH-47D full-flight simulators as the anchor birds.

The six-simulator-bay Arlington training centre will be managed by Nick Mayhew, Senior Program Manager, former commercial program manager at Bristow Academy and a UK Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander with 28 years of front and second line service. He has also been a key member of the US Helicopter Safety Team.

“There are a lot of these older platforms out there. There’s a lot of potential opportunity with international customers, as well as commercial users,” said Lenny Genna, President of L3 Link. “Some international military customers may not be able to get time on Army platforms, and there’s also a market for CH-47 customers to train fire rescue. The need is there.”

They’ll be leveraging the company’s reputation from the largest helicopter simulation programme in the world, the US Army’s Flight School XXI, which annually trains thousands of new student pilots and aviators transitioning to new aircraft. More than 30 L3 Link simulators are utilised, including UH-60L/M and CH-47D/F operational flight trainers (OFTs) and reconfigurable collective training devices for the AH-64A/D Longbow, CH-47D/F, OH-58D and UH-60A/L/M. 

L3 Link has also delivered UH-60L OFTs to the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command and UH-60M OFTs for the Taiwan Army, both contracts through the US Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEOSTRI).

L3 Link is hoping for new business from the US Army’s upgrade to digital cockpits for the Black Hawk, the UH-60V model, a cheaper alternative than purchasing all-new UH-60Ms. The “Victor” is also said to be a prelude to the Future Vertical Lift programme; testing will take place through next year with production (assuming funding) beyond 2019.

Genna said L3 Link is also partnered with Sierra Nevada (SNC) for the replacement to the US Air Force’s UH-1N fleet. SNC would purchase divested UH-60As and upgrade them to “Sierra Force” L models with glass cockpits and new engines. However, the “high-risk” programme could be delayed until fiscal 2020 because of a pre-award protest by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, which is offering the HH-60U. Boeing and Leonardo Helicopters are partnered on the MH-139 entrant.

With their recent acquisition of Colorado Springs-based Doss Aviation, sole provider of the US Air Force initial flight training, L3 Link is angling to secure a similar undergraduate programme for initial rotary wing training.

Missionized Fixed Base

CAE, which claims about 30% of the combined military and civil helicopter flight simulator market, introduced a lower-cost alternative to the full-motion helicopter simulator at the Farnborough Airshow in July – the 700MR (Mission Ready), a flight training device (FTD) on steroids.

Housed in a 12-foot-diameter direct-view dome, the 700MR offers pilots an astounding 88-degree vertical field of view, 240 degrees horizontal. Traditional collimated-display rotorcraft sims were limited to about 60 degrees of vertical visual. “In certain manoeuvres, pilots would lose contact with the horizon. Or have to use a particular head motion to sort of see some things, when in the real aircraft they wouldn’t have to do that,” explained Phil Perey, Senior Director, Global Military Business Development for CAE Defence & Security. “The 88-degree vertical field of view provides a picture from very high up right down to your ankles, including all the chin windows. It’s pretty compelling inside that dome, very immersive in terms of cueing.”

The CAE 700MR Series FTD is based on the CAE 3000 (now also designated MR) full-mission helicopter simulator, but as a fixed-base platform with dynamic seat vibration. “The vibration and motion cueing seat (optional) allows crews to get a sense of blade flutter as you are torqueing the engine,” Perey told MS&T. “You also feel through the seat the onset of motion cueing when banking and so forth.”

The image generator is CAE’s Medallion-6000XR (eXtreme Reality) with computer-generated forces and support for the Open Geospatial Consortium Common Database (OGC CDB) for mission rehearsal and interoperable network capabilities. Scenarios can include ship deck landings, night vision goggle (NVG) training, and confined area landing training.

Pre-launch versions of the new FTD were developed for the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme for the AW101 Merlin Mk4 and H135/145 aircraft. CAE is also producing a 700MR FTD for the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s NH90.

CAE is in the final stages of developing an innovative, in-house virtual reality (VR) solution for training rear-crew in the UK AW101 Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP). Gunnery and medical litter operations will be able to train together with the flight crew using a combination of VR goggles and physical touching of real objects. The VR goggles, in combination with a “green screen,” provide a simulated view outside (and inside) the back of the aircraft. But a small camera mounted on the goggles enables the crew member to see a real object in front of them.

“Crews in back are free to move from station to station,” Perey explained. “The headset camera allows them to see their hands on the gun, but the image fed back through the processing engine overlays an out-the-window picture into the VR headset. They can even put their head outside the window.” Outside of the helicopter crews can see an image of a litter on a cable and track the litter descending or ascending. At a certain point, a real litter shows up. For sling load training, crew can look through a panel in the floor to observe the location of the underslung load and inform the pilot of the location.

The VR design is CAE’s, using commercial off-the-shelf components. “We looked at industry but felt there wasn’t a solution that addressed the customer’s requirements. So we invested some of our own money. We had capabilities in head-tracking, chromakey and image warping, so it’s a novel combination of some of our core competencies,” Perey said. Delivery of the rear-crew training is expected in early 2019.

The training integrator is anticipating the German Navy’s contract award (also delayed) for a turnkey training programme for the NH90 Sea Lion (see also Dim Jones’ feature, Training Germany’s Naval Aircrew, on page 20 of this issue.) Airbus’ second prototype Sea Lion performed its first flight in serial configuration in mid-July: deliveries are scheduled to begin the end of 2019.

CAE was awarded a similar contract in May by Leonardo Helicopters for a comprehensive training solution – including training centre facility, suite of simulators and training devices, and training support services – for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). The Qataris have ordered both the NH90 tactical transport helicopters (TTH) and NH90 NATO frigate helicopters (NFH).

Unintended Downtime

Simulation may become, by default, even more important for readiness training for several Western forces which are sorely lacking in operational aircraft.

On average, only 16 of the German Luftwaffe’s CH-53G heavy-lift helicopters – 110 entered service more than 40 years ago in 1975 – were “deployable” last year. Only 12 of the German Army’s 52 Tigers were in a deployable state. Of the German Navy’s 22 Sea Lynx, only six aircraft were operationally ready in 2017 (indeed, an improvement over previous years). An average of 13 NH90s were deployable during the year. "The material readiness of the weapon system has become increasingly age-affected," the Defence Ministry stated, noting "the lack of availability of spare parts." The deployment of five aircraft to Afghanistan created additional shortfalls.

The Defence Ministry admitted that 19 out of 129 helicopter pilots lost their licence in 2017 because of insufficient flight time.

The situation in France is similar. The latest official update on readiness of French military helicopters shows an average availability less than 50%, with the Tiger fleet only ready for operations 25.6% of the time. The French Navy's 15 NH90s had an availability of 38.4%. Last year, 300 helicopters of the total fleet of 467 were “immobilized,” parked either with a service or a company.

In the US, the Pentagon Inspector General in his April to September 2017 Semiannual Report to the Congress, observed that the Army, in its modernization of the H-60 fleet, “did not provide adequate funding and training for H-60 pilots on the new equipment.” Unaddressed, this could lead to a shortage of trained pilots. The shortfall allegedly occurred “because Army officials did not agree which Army organization was responsible for funding and conducting H-60 new equipment training.” Moreover, the report said, “Evaluators identified safety problems with some UH-60 helicopters that required the unit commander to ground those helicopters. However, the unit commander did not always allow evaluators to finish the evaluation of additional helicopters because he did not want to ground more helicopters if additional safety problems were identified.”

Global Growth

Elsewhere in the rotary wing training world:

Senegalese Armed Forces will train Mi35 attack helicopter and Mi17 transport helicopter aircrews for collective and tactical operations in a Thales helicopter mission trainer to be installed at the Air Force Academy at Thiès, near Dakar. The Thales trainer will enable tactical scenarios such as combat search and rescue, naval operations or even commando insertion / extraction.

Thales has upgraded AS352 Super Puma and EC635 helicopter full flight and mission simulators for the Swiss Air Force. The upgrade included avionics system, radio communications, digital map, forward-looking infrared imagery and helmet visualisation.

Enstrom 480B-G training helicopters with Garmin G1000H glass cockpits are being delivered to Lom Praha for their flight training centre on the military base in Pardubice, Czech Republic. The Enstroms are replacing the Mi2 aircraft that had been used for training Czech Air Force pilots since 2004.

The new Slovak Training Academy (STA) training centre has opened in Košice and will train Afghani aviation engineers and engineers with a technical specialisation.

Russian Helicopters has built a training centre for Mi71Sh helicopter crews in Lima, Peru. More than 400 Russian helicopters are currently operated in Latin America and the Caribbean with the most popular models the Mi8/17 family. The Mi171Sh can be used for airlifting military forces, cargo transport, air-to-surface attacks, medical evacuation and search-and-rescue operations.

CAE is under contract via the US Navy to provide the Brazilian Navy with two S70B Seahawk training devices: a fixed-base OFT and a weapons tactics trainer (WTT) to be used for training rear-crew sensor operators and airborne tactics officers. The two training devices can operate independently or, when networked, provide a total aircrew mission training system. 

CAE is also building a 3000 series simulator with roll-on/roll-off cockpits for the Canadian Coast Guard Bell 429 and 412EPI aircraft, to be located in Ottawa.

Published in MS&T issue 4/2018.