Upgraded avionics for workhorse helos

Emerging advanced flight displays and safety systems for rotary wing aircraft flown in instrument conditions.

High resolution information, images and video are projected on a high-transparency visor enabling the pilot to see at night with enhanced vision systems.

But new sim technology has dramatically improved helo training. Fortunately, costs are stabilizing and the value of training for the unforeseen has some statistically strong and compelling reasons from the fixed wing community to rethink the use of sims for all those flying IFR with helicopters.

A 2016 USHST Training Working Group paper titled Safety Through Helicopter Simulation, authored by USHST members Mike Phillips of Frasca and Nick Mayhew of Bristow Academy, points out all the numerous training benefits with modern simulators that have very high fidelity or have been tailored to the specific training aspects.

The Elbit Skylens is designed as a head worn flight display allowing the pilot to wear glasses and a headset.

This informative paper addresses the traditional complaints about helicopter flight simulators such as "the sim doesn't fly like a real helicopter" or "it's too expensive," etc. But the organization wisely highlights what is needed is the ability to train inexpensively and master evident inflight problems with new high fidelity sims that solve technological problems of the day.

Take, for example, aircraft failures in IMC conditions. Not a topic everyone spends time on, yet in many cases loss of control seems to relate to this particular element of flight. And unlike in fixed wing flights, rotary wing missions many times need a faster response from the pilot.

The USHST report remarks that helicopter pilots face challenges including inadvertent IMC, degraded visual conditions, CFIT, and obstacle awareness and avoidance. And, consequently, the paper says that sim training is not just for pilots who fly large category helicopters.

Helicopter simulator technology has dramatically changed in the past 5 years. When you examine the ability to purchase a high quality visual scene model with good flying qualities and embedded training features, all programmed in a Windows-based computer, you quickly see that this kind of magic is not so expensive any more.

So the use of these high fidelity, inexpensive trainers is gaining ground across the aviation industry – and helicopters are not an exception. In fact, new helicopter sims are exceptional. USHST says that helicopter sim training can replicate an engine failure so the emergency procedures can normally be completed at a safe height above the ground. In the sim, pilots can experience all phases of an actual engine failure accompanied by all of the correct alarms and instrument indications all the way to the ground.

The goal is to complete the maneuver successfully, and in the sim, pilots live all the realism while safely learning the recovery procedures.

Helicopter pilots need training specific to their mission, regardless of the type aircraft they fly. They all face threats including inadvertent IMC, degraded visual conditions, CFIT, obstacle awareness and avoidance...the list goes on. For some pilots, that list might include operating with the use of night vision goggles, a FLIR camera and a high-intensity spotlight, or high altitude pinnacle landings.

Every mission is demanding and all have safety risks, but sim training adds a measure of safety that should be sought out whenever possible. Training in the real aircraft is not always better, nor is it all that is required to be a well-trained, safe and prepared pilot.

Simulated scenarios educate pilots on hazard identification and risk management, and develop situational awareness and higher order thinking skills for use in flight.
See-and-avoid technology, active envelope protection and integrated flightdecks
One of the largest barriers to commercial operations for unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) is the requirement to see-and-avoid. This regulation has driven the development of alternate, small, workable solutions to deal with any obstacle, from other aircraft to towers to buildings and wires.

Many early UAS see-and-avoid technologies started with concepts originally developed for helicopters. And now, with a fresh level of investment and new ideas, some of the UAS see-and-avoid innovations may be suited for use in helicopters. New technology concepts include new or refined sensors that scan and see obstacles and play an active part in control of the flight, taking over from the operator and moving the UAS away from the threat in mid-flight.

Another innovation also available for some classes of general aviation aircraft is the active protective envelope for the automobile. This technology is probably ready for helicopters as well, especially with the recent introduction of fly by wire (FBW) to rotary wings. These developments will progress and experience the natural cycle of reasonable costs and demand as they grow and become available.

The development of active envelope protection for helicopter operations near to the ground is limited and mostly theoretical. But with FBW systems such as the one being touted for the Bell Textron 525 Relentless, it becomes more possible. The integration of terrain and obstacle databases for operations below 200 ft will be key, but following what automobile manufacturers have done with autobraking or backup protection in cars is probably a good starting point. Other innovations on the horizon include concepts like autorotation trajectory optimization, collision avoidance and more.

The industry is headed towards safer, more integrated and computerized helicopter flightdecks. Airbus Helicopters has introduced its new Helionix avionics suite for the EC175, featuring flight envelope protection in cruise. And MD helicopters was announced as the launch OEM customer of the Universal Avionics InSight integrated flightdeck. First flight tested in the MD 902 Explorer in Mar 2016, this avionics suite is NextGen compliant and features an embedded SVS with high resolution graphics that better depict runway and terrain, advanced airport maps, special use airspace, and outlines of urban areas.

Head-worn displays

What may look like something from a tv science fiction channel is now here: head-worn or near-to-eye displays. These special glasses for helicopter pilots are actually advanced flight instrument displays, and they provide what can be shown on a HUD. But the technology of near-to-eye displays is not easy, and investment has led the innovation to a practical point where 2 systems have now emerged in the market place – with still more to come.

FAA has also greatly helped advanced technology to enter into the helicopter flightdeck with the declaration that head-worn displays are equivalent vision displays equal to HUDs. FAA has also developed standards for these displays in the recently published AC 20-167A, Airworthiness Approval of Enhanced Vision System, Synthetic Vision System, Combined Vision System, and Enhanced Flight Vision System Equipment. SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) is developing international standards as well.


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