Eurocopter Southern Africa (Esal), the South African subsidiary of the giant European helicopter group Eurocopter, unveiled last week what it believes to be the first full flight helicopter simulator in Africa. It is certainly Eurocopter’s first simulator in Africa. It was originally commissioned in Switzerland, in 1993, and was acquired second hand from the Swiss Air Force, being a simulator for the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma. It is a full motion simulator with 6º of freedom, allowing it to completely reproduce the real life motions of a Super Puma, and it gives the aircrew a field of view of 200º by 60º.
The unit will provide a valuable training aid for the South African Air Force (SAAF) as well as cut its helicopter flying training costs by a substantial amount. The SAAF previously had to send pilots to Europe for training on helicopter simulators, and having access to such a system in the country will eliminate significant transport and accommodation costs. Further, the cost of “flying” one hour on the simulator is about 25% of the cost of flying an hour in the real helicopter.
The SAAF has contracted for 1 000 hours a year on the simulator from Esal. As flight engineers will also be able to use the simulator, entire crews will be able to train together. In addition to a complete flight crew of three (pilot, copilot and flight engineer), the simulator can accommodate an instructor and observer.
In the simulator, crews can train for emergencies that it would be dangerous to exercise in a real aircraft. Training in flying in difficult conditions or locations (such as night or mountains, or both) can be started and developed in safety in the simulator and only flown in reality at the end of the course.
Although the SAAF does not operate the Super Puma, its standard workhorse helicopter is the very similar Denel Oryx. Both the Oryx and the Super Puma are developments of the Eurocopter Puma helicopter. The Super Puma is longer and heavier than the Oryx, but both use the same engines, gearboxes and rotors. So flying a Super Puma is like flying a loaded Oryx – which actually makes the simulator training for the SAAF even more realistic.
The exact balance between the number of hours to be flown by trainees in the simulator and those flown on a real Oryx has still to be determined. Nevertheless, the use of the simulator will release flying hours on Oryx helicopters, previously needed for training, allowing an increase in the operational hours flown by the aircraft. The SAAF will further save money by using its own helicopter instructors on the simulator. An initial batch of five instructors is being converted on to the simulator.
The simulator is located on the South African premises of Sim Aerotraining, a French company specialising in the operation of second- generation simulators. The Sim Aerotraining facility is, in turn, located on the Denel Aviation property at OR Tambo International Airport, east of Johannesburg.
Sim Aerotraining will operate and maintain the simulator while Esal will sell the simulator hours. With an annual capacity of 2 000 hours to 2 500 hours, Esal is already marketing the simulator to other air forces, and not just in Africa. Talks are under way with possible clients in Latin America and Asia. The simulator is not yet certified for civil use, but Esal is working towards this goal.