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Article & Video by Lyn Burks
Photos by Lyn Burks & Dana Maxfield


Flare, level off, pull pitch and cushion the landing. With the low rotor horn blaring, the AS350 came to a sliding stop on the grass runway. We had just completed an autorotation to touch down. Dave Burchill, the American Eurocopter instructor pilot looked at me and said, “Here, why don’t you take the controls and try one?” In my 21-year career, I have never flown a Eurocopter product. My entire pilot life has been spent sitting in Robinson, Bell, Sikorsky and Agusta aircraft. The last 13 years have been in multi-engine helicopters. To say that I am rusty when it comes to autos is an understatement.

Not having done an autorotation in God knows how long, I made an uncharacteristic “wimpy-kid” statement and said, “But I have never flown an Astar, or any other Eurocopter product for that matter.” Translation: There was a good chance I was going to botch this up, and heaven forbid the editor-in-chief of Rotorcraft Pro screws up an autorotation on the flight line of American Eurocopter with cameras rolling.



Very coolly, the instructor gave me one of those sideward glances and said, “You want to do a straight in, or a 180?” Translation: “Stop your whining, buck up, take the controls, and let’s go fly the helicopter!” His cue was just enough to snap me back into helicopter-pilot mode and recognize the challenge he was putting before me. With my gravitas triggered, I said, “Let’s do a 180.”

He gave me the controls and briefed me on what the pickup to a hover looks like in an Astar. “Pull pitch, add a little right pedal, left skid will come up first” . . . got it. “To take off, stay below 25 feet until 40 knots, climb out, climb out at 65 knots, climb to 1,200 feet” . . . got it.

Abeam our spot, I entered the autorotation. Down pitch, right pedal . . . oops . . . left pedal, aft cyclic to set autorotation airspeed. Start the scan . . . RPM, airspeed, descent rate, spot . . . RPM, airspeed, descent rate, spot. With the ground coming up quick, I started an initial flare, then a little more flare as we got 25 feet off the ground, leveled off at about 10 feet and cushioned the landing with a slight bounce at the bottom, although I don’t think the slight bounce part was supposed to be a part of the maneuver. During the entire auto, I was sure Dave was going to get on the controls at any moment. But he never did. He just calmly talked me through the entire maneuver. After sliding to a stop, he said, “Nice job, that was all you.”

My first arrogant thought was, “Yes, I’ve still got it!” Either I am just a good pilot, the aircraft is that forgiving or Burchill is one great instructor.” Well, after watching the video footage of the autorotation sequence, the jury is in, and the verdict is that the latter two points are definitely the case.

My experience with my most professional Eurocopter instructor pilot was highly educational—so was my experience touring the rest of the American Eurocopter Training Center in Grand Prairie, Texas. With more than 1,800 American Eurocopter rotary-wing aircraft being flown by approximately 600 U.S. operators, including corporate and business customers, hospitals and emergency medical services, tour operators, law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, and the FBI, training pilots and mechanics is a core business for American Eurocopter.

AGE OF TECHNOLOGY


There is no doubt that changes in technology have impacted every facet of the helicopter industry. We have seen composite materials make our aircraft lighter. Advances in electronics and computers have completely revolutionized everything from the way data is presented in the cockpit to how the fuel is controlled to the engines and everything in between. Fifteen years ago, I never thought I would be flying a helicopter that could fly an approach to a point in space into a hover and never touch the controls.

We are in an age where most generations, mine included, are using technology and the digital world in every facet of our lives. We have become so programmed at adapting to and using new technology that we virtually expect it everywhere we go. Pilot and mechanic training are no exceptions. I recently had a chance to ask the American Eurocopter Training Center (AETC) how new technology has influenced the way it delivers customer training.

Without a doubt, flight training has been most affected by the creation of realistic full-motion simulators or flight training devices (FTD). Through continuous development and improvement, the new generations of FTDs are more than just simulators that teach people how to fly. They have evolved into highly sophisticated full-mission training devices.  Operators can prepare for any type of mission, in any environment, before ever attempting it live.

Frank Kanauka, senior pilot at the AETC, remarked, “The simulators have afforded us the ability to conduct much more thorough flight training. The type of maneuvers that we would not even consider doing in the actual aircraft, we can now do them safely in the simulator. As if that were not enough, the cost of the simulator as compared to the helicopter is dramatically slashed, and we pass that savings onto the customer.”

As safety and operational efficiency are among American Eurocopter’s top priorities for its customers and operators, the company has made major investments in simulator training devices benefitting from the complete data package that an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) can provide. American Eurocopter provides realistic and cost-effective training for pilots and crews through access to a full range of simulators, including:

The full-motion AS350 flight and mission simulator, the world’s most advanced of its kind, featuring a full AS350 cabin that creates an enhanced training environment for both pilots and emergency medical services or law enforcement crews.

A full-motion EC135/EC145 FTD with day, night, IFR and NVG capabilities.
The portable AS350 B3 procedural training device, which enables pilots to practice start-up and shut-down procedures, along with radio and systems operations and emergency procedures.

MEDIA, MEDIA, MEDIA

Advancing technology is both fun and scary. It’s fun if you are the one learning it. With most of us operating in a YouTube, iPhone, Android, Internet world, we have come to expect newer, faster and more intuitive technology to help us maintain control of our everyday lives. On the flip side, imagine if you are the one required to provide training on advanced technology products in a fast-changing environment. Imagine attending aviation training with an instructor who whips out a slide carousel and projector—or worse, an overhead projector with markers and transparencies. BORING.

With actual aircraft parts and models, computer-based training, PowerPoint, video and 3D modeling, the AETC provides both pilots and mechanics some of the most in-depth and interactive training available. The use of 2D and 3D graphics and animations enhances the learning experience by allowing interactivity with students on various learning levels.

Naturally, advances in high-speed Internet and mobile devices are opening entirely new opportunities for the AETC to reach its customers. Web-based training (WBT) courses will allow customers to spend less time traveling while training, thereby saving the operator money. They may also allow clients to do a certain amount of pre-learning prior to arriving at the training center, making their training experiences more efficient and effective. WBT courses can cover virtually any topic, whether related to pilot, mechanic or specialty training.

MORE THAN JUST A TECHNOLOGY SHIFT

Without a doubt, technology has improved the quality of training the AETC delivers to its customers. But often times, massive movements in the direction of technology, just for the sake of technology, can cause an organization to lose sight of other priorities, such as safety. In the end, Kanauka shared that as they have changed the way they deliver training using today’s technology, they have altered their focus on molding the customers who fly and maintain their products. Ten years ago, for example, the focus for pilot training was getting the job done in terms of getting the pilot through a flight and ground transition course. Today, however, the focus is more on the safety aspects, and the AETC now envisions what the customer will do with the helicopter after leaving the AETC. Once this is determined, the training technologies are used in order to create scenarios the customer can expect to encounter. Baptism by fire, albeit in a simulated environment, makes for much safer pilots and crew members.

Posted in: Company Profiles

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