Spain's aerospace sector has grown steadily over the past few decades. It now contributes to major international research and commercial projects around the world. Spanish companies are taking the lead in a number of international flight and space missions, including the European Space Agency's innovative Proba-3 mission. Proba-3 will facilitate the strategic deployment of increasingly sensitive astronomical research instruments.
Flying at Ground Level
Two helicopter pilots, members of a local police unit, sit side by side, working the controls with great care. Behind them, a third officer watches for any signs of danger. The helicopter vibrates as it hovers, and the three officers scan the crowded city for any signs of danger.
This latest simulation for the French-German-Spanish conglomerate Eurocopter's AS350 police helicopter (marketed in the United States as AStar) was designed by Madrid-based Indra, an international leader in information technology and a key player in the world simulation market. (Eurocopter's Spanish headquarters, in Albacete, recently celebrated the maiden flight of one of the most advanced transport helicopters, the NH90 TTH tactical transport, for the Spanish government. The Albacete facility will continue with flight testing, and should deliver the NH90 TTH to the Spanish armed forces in 2012.)
Indra's helicopter simulator, among the most innovative world wide for single-engine helicopters, can seat three in its simulation dome. It includes 10 projectors that cover 220 degrees of vision, almost surrounding the pilots. Indra delivered the first system of this class to American Eurocopter, the company's United States arm, at its Dallas center in October 2010. By December 2010 the simulator had been qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration. The simulator has since been employed, to take one example, in support of training for police departments around the country.
"The simulator is used for several types of training," says Juan Felip, Indra's director of simulation. "It's used to learn to fly the helicopter itself, and for skills refreshment, and for learning emergency procedures."
The addition of a third seat in the simulator offers the capability to train not just the pilots but a fully integrated mission of law enforcement or homeland security personnel, continues Felip, and is the first of its kind in the U. S.: "The shooter in the back uses a real gun that has been customized with a laser-pointing device. The simulator reproduces scenarios and situations the officers will have to face, and the instructor can evaluate their skills and capacities."
In addition to the standard day and night training, this is the first full-flight simulator qualified by the FAA that includes training simulations for pilots flying with night-vision goggles. The new simulator has attracted Eurocopter customers from around the U. S. and from abroad.
Indra has a long history in the field of simulation, and in the aerospace sector in general: the company has delivered more than 150 simulators to 15 countries, and is the only European firm that supplies simulators to the U. S. Navy. Its simulations range from commercial jets to military aircraft, to 360-degree air traffic control centers, among other mockups. In addition, the company's air traffic management systems are employed at airport and control centers in more than 90 countries, and facilitate the flow of millions of passengers each day.
In the past, simulators were primarily used for fixed-wing aircraft and for the larger, heavier (thus more expensive) sorts of helicopters. But as the cost of simulation technology has decreased relative to the price of helicopters, and as the world has grown increasingly concerned about the proportionally higher accident rates for helicopters, there's been an international demand for improving helicopter training tools— including simulators.
For helicopter flight training, simulation technology demands significantly richer visual data than jet simulations, because helicopters fly closer to the ground. "For example, you not only show buildings, but you can show a shooter within a building. You might display different moving cars, trucks, and other aircraft. The detail is much higher than is needed than for a simulator for a commercial jetliner," points out Felip. The resulting visual display must also incorporate information from nonvisual sensors, including the atmosphere and the humidity, to avoid so-called negative training, where pilots make mistakes because they practiced flights with incorrect or incomplete data.
Working with Eurocopter, Indra recently signed an agreement to deliver the first full-flight helicopter simulator to China. The helicopter fleet in China is growing, says Felip, and he expects that China will offer important business opportunities. In general, Felip sees the role of helicopter simulators growing everywhere: "The safety authorities, such as the FAA in the U. S. or the EASA [European Aviation Safety Administration], are pressing for more simulations for helicopters, and regulators are asking for a higher level of training."