LONDON — Ryan Aerospace’s new dual-control Helicrew helicopter cockpit simulator system is part of a growing segment of technological — but not too technological — training devices.
The new system consists of a base platform containing seats, cyclic sticks and pedals. Instructors can add a series of interchangeable modules such as instrument panels, avionics, aircraft-specific collective levers and overhead panels.
A variety of screens can be used to give an outside view, but there is no cockpit enclosure or motion system. For an added degree of realism and an additional cost, the simulator can be equipped with seat shakers or vibration devices.
The aim, said Managing Director Chris Ryan, is to provide a halfway house between the most basic procedural trainers and high-level simulators, with trainees able to undertake routines such as instrument scans, GPS exercises and multifunction display operation.
Helicrew uses commercial off-the-shelf components and this “pick-and-mix” approach to accessories to cut costs.
“Customers in this market space have said, ‘We need something better than a Wal-Mart gaming joystick, but we don’t need to go to the expense of procuring a fully certified simulator costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to find a niche. While the market is relatively small for devices such as this, it’s growing.”
There are, he said, very few competitors in the field. Ironically, this has been something of a drawback.
“So often, customers say to us things like, ‘This is something we could really use — however, since we didn’t know such a product existed, we have no immediate documented requirement for such a device.’ This means very long lead times from first bite to sale,” he said.
The initial cockpit configuration available represents the Bell 206/Kiowa helicopter, but cockpit modules are designed to be changed simply by loosening bolts and sliding the modules off the rails, allowing different types to be represented in the future.
The system is software agnostic and has a USB interface, allowing it to work with programs such as X-Plane or Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D. The trainer also accommodates scenery enhancement kits such as ORBX and a sound system.
Helicrew typically uses three 42-inch screens to provide an external view, although at the ITEC trade show here last month, the company showed a 7-foot-wide curved screen from VDC Display Systems powered by five LED projectors and image-blending software. This gives a 110-degree horizontal field of view and about 40 degrees vertically.
“We’ve also identified a small but growing market of customers using VBS2 in combined arms training/collective training, where the training is not so much about the flying, it’s more about the procedures and interaction with other friendly forces,” Ryan said.
Ryan plans to have a Helicrew system running VBS2 at the I/ITSEC trade show in December in Orlando, Fla.
The Australian company said it already has a customer for Helicrew, an unnamed large military contractor providing training for army helicopter pilots.