Monday, November 16, 2015

Helicopter Training Simulators

The Real Deal:

In February 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a safety alert recommending simulator training for helicopter operators ( 
Safety through Helicopter Simulators  cited several examples of how simulator training using real-life scenarios could have prevented fatal helicopter events.  Simulators provide large and small operators with a variety of training options that are cost-effective, realistic, and can be tailored to specific mission profiles. And simulator training will not put your pilot or aircraft at risk. Building simulation
training into your safety and training program is simply the right thing to do. Still, if you’re new to simulator based training, getting started can be confusing. What should you look for in simulator-based training? Should you build your own program or choose a vendor? What kind of training is best? How does training credit work?  Let’s look at what you can do to get the most out of your investment in simulator-based training.

A Long Time Coming

Simulator training has proven itself in other aviation sectors for decades, but it took longer to gain traction in the helicopter world. Demand was not obvious. Helicopter operations had traditionally been conducted literally under the radar of most aircraft and simulator manufacturers, and training remained unstructured. Sikorsky and the larger Bell aircraft had simulation options available, but there was little impetus to bring other options online in a timely fashion.  However, as the helicopter industry has matured, so too has the demand for more high-tech training. The number of oeprations are increasing, technology is expanding, and mission profiles are being added. Moreover, accident investigations started to reveal a lack of effective, standardized training for common hazards.  It has taken almost a decade for  scenario-based simulator training  to be made available to the majority of commercial helicopter operators, but today there are a wide range of helicopter simulator options available. Most operators — with a little strategic planning — can take advantage of simulator training to improve their operational safety.

Simulators: The Facts

The most basic question that pilots and operators ask about simulator based training is this: can simulator experience substitute for training conducted during flights? 

Actually, simulators offer more comprehensive, cost-effective training at lower risk to the aircraft and trainee.  When using a simulator, emergency scenarios can be played out in a way that you could never do in a real safety alert, “During flight training, it is difficult to recreate the element of surprise and the realistic, complex scenarios that pilots may experience during an emergency. Without simulators, viable lesson components may be limited.” Without the benefit of simulator training, even high-time pilots may never have the chance to practice an entire emergency procedure to completion.  Simulator scenarios can be tweaked so that the trainee doesn’t always know that, for example, an autorotation is coming or that the warning light will eventually lead to an engine failure. In addition, simulator training offers pilots increased authenticity and the chance to safely experience the consequences of their decisions: there’s no need for the instructor to take over when the flight goes awry.  In this way, simulator training better prepares pilots for real emergencies and unexpected hazards.

Another advantage of simulator training is that it’s safe for both the pilot and aircraft. 
Indeed, training in an actual helicopter can stress the aircraft or put it at risk.  Finally, simulator training can often be more efficient. When practicing approaches, for example, there is no need to reposition the aircraft before another attempt. If a student needs additional repetition on a procedure, the reinforcement can occur immediately.  Costs for simulator training will depend on several factors, including the type of training and the type of simulator. However, when comparing costs for simulator and aircraft training, consider that training in a helicopter will take the aircraft (not to mention the instructor) out of  revenue-generating operations for the length of training, and often longer when adding dual controls. You should also take in account the cost of fuel and wear and tear to the aircraft.  

The Essentials of Simulator Training  

When deciding on simulator training, the most important factor is that the program suits the needs of your operation. Your simulator training program should teach the scenarios that fit your operational profile, including mission, visual flight rules or instrument flight rules, day or night, and geographical properties, such as high-altitude or over-water flights.  Simulators are most effective when specific to both aircraft and mission; however, the mission-specific factor is actually more important than aircraft specific. Developing pilots’ critical thinking  skills through exposure to scenario-based training is viewed as a factor in decreasing accident rates. When you combine scenario based training in an aircraft-specific simulator, almost any type of training can be accomplished for initial, recurrent, and human-factor training requirements.  

Leasing Simulator Time

Your first decision in developing your simulator training program may be whether you should build your own training or use a training vendor. In this case, the choice is simple. Do you have the staff resources to build and instruct a training program? If the answer is yes, or even maybe, then the option to “dry” lease simulator time can be cost-effective, and the scheduling options for leasing simulator time can be more flexible as well.  Building a training program around the simulator is not as difficult as it sounds. There are resources and sample programs to get you started. To be eligible for FAA credit, a Part 135 operator must get his FAA principal operations inspector (POI) to approve the training program. This can be accomplished fairly quickly if you use a standard course template approved for similar operations. Some operators will share their approved courseware;  the simulator provider may also offer generic and sample training programs.  Once you have a standard template, it is important to adapt the simulator scenarios to reflect actual missions or routine flights within your organization so pilots receive training on the conditions they will face in the field. Some operators have used information from incident and accident reports to create training scenarios. Once the scenarios are in place, they can be adapted for new situations and pilot competency.

Turnkey Solutions

If you don’t have the in-house staff to develop your own simulator training, you can choose from a number of providers. One advantage of this approach is that the cost is usually fixed: initial and recurrent courses have set rates and schedules. The company will provide all of the training materials and instructors, as well as the simulation. In some cases, aircraft are available to supplement the simulation.  If you have recently purchased an aircraft, you should know that some manufacturers have added simulation to their training offerings. In some cases, additional training options are available that include mission specific recurrent training or special equipment such as night-vision goggles.  

Match Training Scenario to the Mission

When considering simulator training, many first look for a simulator based on a particular aircraft. However, a causal factor in most accidents is not the pilot’s unfamiliarity with the aircraft. Rather, most accidents involve poor pilot decision making because of distractions and human factor elements. For example, a pilot’s decision to press on in inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) is more about that pilot’s reaction to unfolding events than his or her expertise in flying a particular aircraft.  It’s great if you can match your simulator training to the types of aircraft in your operation. However, in most cases, matching the training scenarios to the typical missions flown by your pilots is even more important.  Whether you are building your own training program or purchasing an off-the-shelf product, put some time into thinking what you want your pilots to practice. Scenario based training should include the typical scenarios faced by your pilots, with aircraft malfunctions and environmental distractions added in.  

If all of your flights are offshore to oil rigs, then your training scenarios should include these types of flights and the accompanying “standard” emergencies, such as ditching.  If a typical mission for your operation is to navigate through mountainous terrain to small, unlit landing zones, your training scenario should incorporate these features, providing pilots with the challenge of maintaining situational awareness while making good decisions. The same is true for practice in cold weather operations, high and hot situations, and IIMC — the latter being a common event in almost all geographical locations and a factor in the highest percentage of fatalities in helicopter accidents.  Almost any situation, distraction, or environmental obstacle can be depicted in a simulator. The goal in these cases is to establish a pattern of critical thinking skills in unexpected or unfamiliar circumstances — building confidence and professionalism, which ultimately leads to safer decisions. 

Technical Lowdown of Training Credits

There are two categories of devices recognized by the FAA to provide flight simulation training. A flight training device (FTD) is a non-motion trainer that replicates a specific aircraft, including instruments, equipment, panels, and controls, in an open or closed flight deck.  A full flight simulator (FFS) is the most advanced type of flight simulation available to pilots and training institutions. An FFS has a motion base and includes a full replica of a specific make, model, and series of aircraft cockpit. All aerodynamics, flight controls, and systems must perform as the actual aircraft would
in flight. More information about the different flight simulation training devices approved by the FAA is listed below.

FAA-Recognized Flight Simulation Training Devices
Flight Training Devices (FTD)
FTD Level 4 Helicopter-specific with at least one operating system

FTD Level 5 Helicopter-specific with at least one operating system
• Primary and secondary controls must be physical controls

FTD Level 6 Enclosed helicopter-specific flight deck and aerodynamic program with all applicable helicopter systems operational
• All controls, switches, and knobs must physically replicate aircraft control operation

FTD Level 7 Enclosed helicopter-specific flight deck and aerodynamic program with all applicable helicopter systems operational
• All controls, switches, and knobs must physically replicate aircraft control operation
• Visual system must provide cross-deck viewing from both pilot seats
• Vibration cues are available to enhance realism of training experience

Full-Flight Simulators (FFS)
FFS Level B Requires at least a three-axis motion platform
• Visual system responds to pilot input of controls within 300 milliseconds

FFS Level C Provides motion platform with all six degrees of freedom
• Simulator controls must replicate feel of aircraft
• Visual system responds to pilot input of controls within 150 milliseconds
• Visual system has 180-degree field of vision; can replicate visual illusions for landing, dusk, daylight, and special  weather situations

FFS Level D Provides motion platform with all six degrees of freedom
• Simulator controls must replicate feel of aircraft
• Visual system responds to pilot input of controls within 150 milliseconds
• Visual system has 180-degree field of vision; can replicate visual illusions for landing, dusk, daylight, and special      weather situations
• Motion and aural effects are available to enhance the realism of the training experience

In each case, as the simulators go up in complexity, they provide a more realistic training environment in terms of the flight systems, visual display, motion simulator, and cockpit
environment. The highest level, FFS Level D, provides a motion platform capable of moving in all six degrees, a visual system with a view of 180 degrees, and a number of special motion, visual, and aural effects to provide a realistic cockpit environment.  The FAA awards training credit to pilots who complete an approved training curriculum according to the level of training device used. The amount of training credit is subject to the interpretation of the POI and may reflect differences based on type of operation or unusual environmental challenges.  

Many operators have questions in regard to the training credit allocated in different devices. The final decision as to the amount of training credit for a Part 135 operator is entirely the decision of their POI. In general, however, the more complex simulators receive the higher amounts of training credits.  For example, almost everyone gets 100 percent training credit for work done in a Level D FFS, which is used by Part 121 airline operations and many 
Part 135 corporate fixed-wing operations. This level of simulator is also the most expensive. Credit obtained for training in a Level B or C FFS depends on the equipment capability and the decision of the POI.  

Another factor in choosing your simulator is cost. In general, the more complex simulators are more expensive. This is why it’s important to review your budget and think about what you want to get out of the simulator training. For example, there is a significant difference in the operating costs of a Level D FFS and a Level 7 FTD. It can be very cost effective for an operator of single engine aircraft (Airbus Helicopters AS350, Bell 206, and Bell 407) to use
the Level 7 FTD. Training credit for a Level 7 has been equal or better than a Level B full-motion simulator and costs a lot less to use.  The latest technical advances in simulator visual systems provide a very realistic training environment.  There are a number of Level 7 FTDs for single-engine helicopter training, and training credit ranges between 80 and 95 percent, depending on the operator and the POI. 

A Level 6 FTD gets a slightly lower training credit as it usually does not have a seat shaker or vibration in the simulation. Anything below a Level 6 will definitely have training value; however, FAA training credit varies significantly.  Some operators have expressed concerns about receiving anything less than 100 percent of the training credit.  However, if you consider that most operations require some sort of local area orientation flights, the difference can easily be made up in the aircraft at minimal cost.  

Plan Ahead for Maximum Payoff

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to simulator training. But there is an answer that will fit most operations and budgets — and, as the NTSB has stated, “Consistent, standardized simulator training will help prepare pilots for the unexpected and will decrease the risk of an accident.”  To get the most out of your investment in simulator training, develop specific goals for the training that match your operational challenges. Then research the most cost-effective means to meet those goals. There are many resources to help you get started in building an effective simulator training program — and eventually a safer flight operation.

by Terry Palmer ... originally published: ROTOR magazine Winter 2015 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Training to Avoid the Fatal CFIT Disaster

Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) still remains high on the list of types of accidents.   CFIT by definition occurs when an airworthy aircraft is flown, under the control of a qualified pilot, into terrain (water or obstacles) with inadequate awareness on the part of the pilot of the impending collision.

There are many ways to prevent CFIT accidents especially with new advancements in technology, but instructing to prevent these occurrences has often been overlooked.   In order to teach about CFIT, we need to review the basic factors that lead to a CFIT situation.  The first key factor is that the pilot had inadequate awareness of the impending doom.   Reviewing the events that lead to this lack of awareness and a risk mitigation strategy can be incorporated into most training programs at both the student and commercial levels.

More than half of the CFIT accidents occur in reduced visibility or IMC conditions.  Most training programs at all levels include discussion on avoiding IMC conditions.  Training should always include review and practice on the procedures after encountering IMC.  The focus must be on the maintaining a discipline to follow procedures.  In all levels of training, the discipline comes from repeated practice using actual scenarios.  The scenarios can be developed from actual accident reports or from normal flights that suddenly encounter reduced visibility.  Many CFIT accident reports have shown that pilots continued to fly into unsafe conditions while trying to get below the weather rather than follow procedures.    Whatever scenarios are used, they should be repeated until the student or pilot in training reacts automatically with standard procedures.  Scenarios should be briefed, flown and then debriefed to confirm the recognition of the risk and mitigation. 

Another major contributor to the loss of awareness in flight is distraction.  Distraction can have many sources and is often unrecognized by the pilot until it is a crisis.  A clear method to avoid distraction is to identify possible distracters.  One issue that has proven to be a problem is the unfamiliarity with technology in the aircraft.   Optional equipment for radar, terrain awareness and ADS-B can be very helpful in avoiding unsafe situations; however the pilot must be comfortable using the equipment.  There have been many accidents where the technology was installed but either not used or used incorrectly.  Distraction resulted from the pilot trying to identify what he/she was seeing on the screens and trying to relate it to the circumstances outside of the aircraft.  In order to mitigate this risk, the focus should be on training in the use of the equipment utilizing scenarios that build confidence in its use.  This is the same basic principle as learning to trust your instruments when flying IFR.  Training in the advanced technology using actual scenarios builds a comfort level that allows the pilot to recognize, understand and trust what the equipment is saying.   Recognition of the situation allows the pilot to make the conscious decision to maintain disciplined procedures.

Distraction can also come from mechanical failures.  In primary training we teach the basic skills for recovering from loss of power or malfunctions of components.  We normally train these events over and over until the student is “programmed” to react appropriately to the situation.  Sometimes in advanced training when flying more complex aircraft, the training lacks the “programming” of the pilot.  Complex aircraft  don’t always offer the ability to safely practice malfunction scenarios without significant risk to the airframe.  In complex aircraft, touchdown autorotations or tail rotor failures are not demonstrated in a training scenario.  Without practice in abnormal and emergency procedures, pilots may hesitate when faced with an actual emergency.  Confusion and distraction often occurs from the pilot trying to remember and respond with the correct actions.   So once again, training should include actual scenarios with aircraft specific procedures.

Human Factors can play a major role in distraction leading to CFIT.  Personal distractions such as stress, fatigue, illness or boredom can have serious consequences.  Then there is distraction from personal devices like cell phones and tablets.  Personal technology devices have been proven to be fatal distractions in all types of transportation accidents.  Training to prevent human factor and personal distractions can be as simple as building a foundation for professional discipline.   Training sessions can focus on the ability to recognize a loss of situational awareness and reinforce checklists and procedures.

Simulators are very effective tools for presenting scenarios that cover many distractions in actual environments with little risk to persons or aircraft.  The key is to build scenarios that fit the situations and practice until the pilot is skilled and confident.   Simulators are being used to train the hard skills needed to perfect flying technique and the soft skills necessary to avoid distractions.  Scenarios designed for simulator training are often a bit more complex than those in aircraft training because the physical risk factor has been removed.

Training to reduce distractions increases the overall awareness of pilot to situations that could result in a CFIT event.  In some regions, regulatory agencies require annual training in CFIT prevention.  There are a number of reference documents available for review by instructors and pilots.  The FAA has an Advisory Circular (AC 61-134) that outlines Controlled Flight into terrain Awareness.  The Flight Safety Foundation has a CFIT Checklist risk assessment tool.  HAI has incorporated a “Land and Live” campaign that encourages pilots to simply land if conditions are not safe to continue the flight. 

Controlled Flight into Terrain can be avoided with regular training activities that build the foundation and remind us of the requirement to stay vigilant.   If we practice, CFIT can become extinct.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Training is the fuel or power source for the industry

Training is the key to most of the success as well as the safety in helicopter operations; however it has been often overlooked for economic reasons.  Some people think of training as only the ab-initio student pilot which of course is very important in establishing the foundation for solid skills in the future.  Training beyond the initial ratings varies from region to region due to significant differences in minimum standards set by regulators.  There is also a considerable range of training standards across the industry sectors.  In many cases advanced or recurrent training is totally ignored unless expressly dictated by regulation, customer requirements or insurance.  Historically this deficiency had not severely impacted the industry until the introduction of complex technology in the aircraft.  Despite the evidence that most accidents were determined to be a result of pilot error often due to poor decisions, advanced training standards improved very little in many areas across the industry – until recently.   The industry has taken the lead in developing realistic standards and effective training techniques.  The International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) continues to address some of these issues in various publications and resources.  The Helicopter Association International (HAI) Training Committee is also working on projects recognizing that training has a higher priority as missions and equipment become more sophisticated.

 As helicopters operations continue to evolve so do the aircraft.  Complex technology is changing our aircraft and increasing our need for training.  Now we have become firmly established in the century of technology.  We think nothing of purchasing the latest smart phone or tablet and engrossing ourselves in hours of amazement and networking.  New aircraft are not simply flying machines, they are smart machines.  Smart machines that require an advanced skill set to operate successfully and safely.  Unlike the other high-tech devices to which we have become accustomed, if not addicted; high tech aircraft systems cannot be learned in the leisure of the home or office. 

So how do we address this developing requirement?  There is not one answer to address all of the situations.  Training is the fuel or power source for the industry.  It has different requirements for each aircraft class and industry sector.   In starting with the basics, student pilots should prepare for advanced operations in specific sectors as well as learning how to fly.  Student pilots are learning skills and maneuvers to pass a check ride or flight test.  The critical piece to add at this stage of training is the discipline to follow checklists, procedures and policies.   A strong professional discipline facilitates the ability to make good decisions in challenging situations.  This discipline also provides a structure for increasing the pilot workload as more complexity is introduced.  It is also important that we accept that we are never finished with our training.  Each completion simply takes us to the next level.

The skills we learn as student pilots can take us through our entire career, however many skills are perishable and must be refreshed on a regular basis.  The need for refreshing some skills such as instrument proficiency has been widely recognized in all of aviation for many years.   Most other skills have not been acknowledged as being perishable so it is important to note that any skill not practiced on a regular basis may be perishable over time.  Some additional examples of perishable skills may include autorotations, use of advanced avionics, or flight into confined areas.  Recurrent training to be effective should include all the perishable skills that may be needed for the operation.
The use of simulators has proven to be very effective for maintaining proficiency.  Pilots can be trained to manage the systems and avionics in actual aircraft during normal operation, but when it comes to abnormal operations and emergencies, this becomes risky to both pilot and aircraft.  Then if we add challenging locations such as mountainous terrain, over water or a high-rise city environment training in an aircraft can become more dangerous.  Simulation is playing an increasingly important role in providing the environment for learning and maintaining the skills necessary for flying specific operations in complex aircraft.   This is where scenario based training specific to the mission and the location is most important.   Training to a specific type of operation in a variety of weather conditions and environments prepare pilots to handle almost all the situations they will be encountering.  In the last few years, simulation has been become more available and is currently in use by the aircraft manufacturers, large training providers and many of the most successful operators.  In the United States, the NTSB recently issued a safety alert stating that the “Use of simulators can prepare helicopter pilots for emergencies and prevent accidents.”  The value of simulators is widely recognized now in Europe, United States, Canada and Brazil. 

All of the factors that lead us to require a higher standard of training for pilots are just as applicable to the maintenance personnel.  Maintenance technicians are also faced with theses “smart” flying machines that require more technology based maintenance, sophisticated equipment and tools.  Training maintenance personnel has wider range of standards than pilots.  In some regions, there are no maintenance training requirements that separate fixed wing from helicopters and in other regions aircraft specific training is mandatory.   These issues are also on the radar for the IHST and HAI Training Committees as well as the US NTSB.  Airframe and engine manufacturers have enhanced their training and in partnership with industry are providing more availability of model specific courses.

It is important to recognize the individual needs of training with respect to the level of proficiency, the environment to be flown, the specific mission, and the complexity of the aircraft.   Training insures that pilots and mechanics are prepared to handle whatever situation is encountered in the rotorcraft environment.   It is the fuel that will insure the future success of our industry.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Training to Proficiency

Training is a key element in maintaining safety in our daily flight operations.  One of the most indefinable areas of training is the recurrent segment, despite the fact that this may be the most effective area for mitigating risk and maintaining proficiency.
During recurrent training and flight reviews we are tasked with training to proficiency.  Proficiency can be interpreted at many levels, but most often it is kept to the minimum standards stated by regulation.   The FAA defines proficiency as “the outcome of the maneuver is never in doubt, be it a standards maneuver or emergency procedure.”  Some training standards will specify maneuvers and tasks that demonstrate meeting these requirements. 

It is what is beyond these stated standards that should be considered most relevant to our safety.  Proficiency should be taken to a personal as well as a professional level.  If we can determine by an honest self-appraisal, the knowledge and performance that require additional training, our competency will improve.  Practice in specific areas that we recognize as needing improvement will enhance our ability to make more confident decisions in all situations including emergencies. 

Most of the time, this does not require a major change to standard training programs.  Each training session should allow for the pilot to request practice and/or training in skills or maneuvers that might lose proficiency over time.  There are many skills that fall into a “perishable skill” list especially when regular flight time does not meet certain conditions.  The most obvious of these is flight in low visibility conditions.  IFR and inadvertent flight into IMC are frequently addressed as an area of additional training.   Other perishable skills are often overlooked.   Maneuvers and equipment not employed on a regular basis such as autorotations or night vision goggles may not be sufficiently addressed in recurrent training. Normal training sessions might avoid emergency procedures that are difficult to replicate in an aircraft without significant risk.   This is an area where scenario based training in flight simulators is extremely effective.   Most risk factors including visibility restriction and emergency procedures can be practiced to proficiency in simulators.

Beyond the perishable skills, consideration should be given to the areas where the pilot may have limited experience especially when changing jobs or locations.   A pilot flying specific routes such as tour operations may not be comfortable with overwater flights to a platform with no land in sight.   Specific geographical areas and terrain may offer different challenges to different pilots.  A pilot flying offshore for a considerable period of time might find a lack of proficiency when switching to a mountainous flight environment.   A law enforcement pilot flying in a remote area may be uncomfortable with the communications procedures when moving to a congested environment.  All of us can recognize areas where our experience is limited.  Many companies have established training programs that include specific requirements based on the type of operation certification, however in some areas this is vague and does not take in consideration a lack of recent experience.  Since conditions vary significantly in different types of operation, training should include anything that is unique along with the typical.  Proficiency in training should include the particular environmental requirements that fit the situation.

Technology proficiency is a whole new focus area for training.  Switching from analog to a digital or glass cockpit may take extra time for some pilots.  The reverse is also true.  Pilots with mostly glass cockpit experience may find difficulty in developing an effective scan in an analog cockpit.  Then if we look beyond the original aircraft configuration, we find that new technology is routinely being added to the aircraft.  New models of navigation, radar and terrain awareness equipment are providing more accurate information and warnings.  Most often as technology is added to an aircraft, training is minimal.  The technology itself can be a great asset to safe operation; however lack of proficiency can have the opposite effect.  There are numerous documented accidents that show, despite terrain awareness equipment installed on the aircraft, warnings were either misunderstood or ignored.  In some cases the equipment wasn’t used even though it was available.  This can be attributed to a lack of confidence in the equipment due to a lack of training.  If we are not comfortable or trained on high-tech equipment, most likely we won’t use it.  Compare this to your computer, tablet or smart phone.  There are allot of great features, you probably don’t use because you don’t know how.  In an aircraft using technology proficiently can reduce our workload.  Without proper training the same equipment can be a liability, distraction and ultimately increase our workload.

Lastly let’s consider how we interface with others.  Single pilot procedures can differ considerably from a multi-crew environment.  Military pilots that came from a structured crew environment may feel challenged by a single pilot operation.  The same can be said for pilots with a multitude of hours flying single pilot placed in a two pilot cockpit with different procedures and split duties.   Single pilot operation and multi-crew coordination should be a part of training from both the operation and human factor perspective.  Consideration should also be given to training in communication and multi-tasking that includes interfacing with the non-flying crew that are prevalent in the law enforcement, fire, rescue, air medical, and utility type operations.  Proficiency in single pilot operations as well as crew environments requires practice and discipline.

The most important factor to takeaway is that training should meet the personal and operational goals and requirements of the pilot in addition to any regulatory obligations.  Proficiency is the expertise and confidence in your ability to fly the aircraft in the specific operation, under all circumstances and make professional decisions based on knowledge and a solid foundation of skill.