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The Leading Edge of Training Technology –The CAE Experience
Article, photos & video by Lyn Burks

Offshore 100 miles, atop an 80-foot oil rig helideck I perform a pre-takeoff check: fuel levers in direct, both throttles in fly, fire t-handles are forward.  Scanning down the instrument panel I see that my temps and pressures are in the green and there are no warnings or caution lights blinking at me.  Moving across the center console, I ensure that my stick trims and autopilots are on, and there are no DECU (digital engine control unit) faults.  Next, I pull the Sikorsky S76C+ into a stable hover, turn the nose into the wind, and do a power check.  The torque gauge reads 68 percent — life is good.

After one last glance at my performance instruments, I pull up on the collective and start a climb straight up off the deck.  At 20 feet, I nose the helicopter over ten and begin my acceleration.  As soon as the edge of the helideck disappears below me — BOOM!  The number one engine quits and I get the blaring engine-out audio that chimes deee-tle-eee-tle-eee.

With warnings blaring in my ears, lights blinking before my eyes, and rotor rpm dropping, my training kicks in.  I almost simultaneously silence the audio, adjust the collective to keep the rotor rpm around 100 percent, and pitch the nose for VTOSS (takeoff safety speed).  With VTOSS achieved, I am not descending any more, but my rate of climb is barely 50 feet per minute.  Something’s not right.  The rate of climb should be much higher.  I look around the cockpit for another 15 seconds before I see three big green lights glaring at me.  Bingo!  Those green lights indicate that I have left the landing gear down.  Once the gear goes up, I am accelerating to VBROC (best rate of climb speed) and climbing like a rocket, or at least as good as you can OEI (one engine inoperative).

Fortunately during all of this, I was in a simulator doing recurrent S76 C+ helicopter training at the CAE Training Center in Whippany, New Jersey.  We were performing engine failures, tail-rotor malfunctions, engine control malfunctions, and all manner of emergency procedures — with zero risk to life or aircraft.


Founded in 1947, CAE has more than 210 full-flight simulators in 44 civil training locations worldwide.  The company employs approximately 8,000 people at more than 100 sites and training locations in approximately 30 countries.  CAE offers civil aviation, military, and helicopter training services in more than 45 locations worldwide, and trains approximately 100,000 crewmembers yearly.

My training took place at a state-of-the-art CAE facility located in the picturesque suburb of Whippany, NJ.  It was off the beaten path; just far enough to make getting there easy but not so far out that you could not find a decent hotel and restaurant nearby.  Most people might think that location is not too important for a training center.  But with many of the aircraft training courses lasting from one to three weeks, a comfortable stay and accessibility become very important to the learning process.

Strategically, the geographic location of the training center is critical to the success of the facility. Since the northeastern U.S. is a hotbed of corporate aircraft operations that includes many multi-engine complex helicopters, it made perfect sense for CAE to build a training center to service that sector of the market.

The facility itself was opened in 2007, with first couple operational simulators being the Gulfstream V and the Sikorsky S76.  The Whippany training center (also known as the NETC - North East Training Center) currently operates the Sikorsksy S76 and AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter simulators. According to Aimee Hein, the NETC Head of Training, over 500 pilots completed S76 training at the facility in 2013. Interestingly, the AW139 simulator was born out of a unique partnership.  Rotorsim is a joint venture between CAE and AgustaWestland in which CAE provides the facility, simulator, and simulator technical servicing. AgustaWestland provides the training program and Instructor staffing.


The initial S76 training course normally takes a week and a half.  However, because I have been flying the S76 since 1999, I only needed to attend the recurrent training course, which is four days.  Although about half the length of the initial course, it was still very challenging since I had not flown the S76 in a couple years.

The first two days focused on ground training subjects.  As a point of interest, I must interject here that people from New Jersey are typically known for their fast talk, sarcastic wit, and colorful candor.  The state’s governor, Chris Christie, is a prime example of this.  The lead instructor for my recurrent training class, Bill Horn, also fit the bill.  He was loud, he was engaging, and he was very funny.  Combine those characteristics with his decades of experience in the actual aircraft, along with his solid instructional techniques, and you have the perfect recipe for learning.  Emergency procedures, aircraft systems, crew resource management, and IFR flying were all topics that quickly melted away time over the two days of intense ground training. Thanks to Bill’s expertise, even the painfully complex electrical system of the S76C+ was distilled into manageable chunks of “what you really need to know” information.

The simulated flight training included four hours of flight training.  Each training block was further broken down into two-hour sessions, with approximately one-and-a-half hours of pre- and post-flight briefings.

BLOCK 1: The first two-hour session focused primarily on two areas – (1) VFR flight and (2) emergency procedures.  The first 15 to 30 minutes involved basic VFR flight training maneuvers.  The main purpose of this time is to get the pilot attuned to flying the simulator.  Although the visuals, vibrations, and motion of the sim accomplish a very high level of realism, it’s still a simulator and it takes a few minutes for all of the human senses to sync up to the aircraft simulator.  Once comfortable in the sim, the bulk of the training immerses the pilot in emergency procedures.  Pilots can expect to see everything from electrical failures to engine fires to autopilot malfunctions to hydraulic system failures.

BLOCK 2: The second two-hour session focused on instrument flying procedures.  CAE can provide pilots with the opportunity to fly instrument approaches and procedures specific to their geographic operations.  For me, I was happy to use the approaches local to the training center, which included Morristown Municipal Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.  Attitude instrument flying by hand and autopilot were heavily emphasized.  Additionally, the IFR tasks of intercept/tracking, holding procedures, flying precision and non-precision approaches, and missed approaches were included in the session.  The goal of the instrument flying session is to complete all the tasks that would meet the Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) as outlined by Federal Aviation Regulation 61.57.


In the classroom, virtually every form of media was used to disseminate information. Whiteboards and PowerPoint presentations are traditionally used to deliver curriculum, and this was no different at CAE.  However, there was also a healthy dose of flash animation, video, and web interaction to connect the pilot to the course material in a modern and meaningful way.  I was very impressed to see that the CAE helicopter instructors had developed an iPad app that performed the function of the emergency procedures checklist.  With the app running, all the pilot has to do is touch the corresponding warning/caution light, and the emergency procedure is instantly presented to the pilot.  With iPads and tablets finding their way more and more into helicopter cockpits, the days of flipping back and forth through clunky printed checklists are limited.

Since CAE’s primary business is simulation, it stands to reason they are on the “leading edge” of sim technology development.  The bedrock of the CAE sim fleet being used for helicopter market is the CAE 3000 Series.  The CAE 3000 Series helicopter flight and mission simulator offers unprecedented realism for helicopter-specific mission training, including offshore, emergency medical services, law enforcement, high-altitude, corporate, and other operations.  It’s a well-known fact that training in a helicopter simulator costs less than training in a turbine-powered helicopter, extends the service availability of aircraft fleets, and frees up fleet aircraft for revenue-generating operations.  The CAE 3000 Series simulator is the result of CAE’s decades of simulator experience and helicopter training expertise, assessment of current and emerging regulatory requirements, and extensive input from the CAE-created Helicopter Advisory Board, which includes pilots, operators, manufacturers, and insurers.

The CAE 3000 Series is designed to address emerging global standards for helicopter flight simulation training devices (FSTDs) developed by an international working group sponsored by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). CAE helicopter mission simulators meet or exceed current regulatory requirements, including U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Level D standards.  All CAE 3000 Series helicopter flight and mission simulators feature a CAE Tropos-6000 visual system with high-definition commercial off-the-shelf projectors, up to a 220-degree horizontal by 80-degree vertical field-of-view direct projection dome with full chin window coverage, and high-resolution databases tailored to helicopter training operations.


With the cost of technology decreasing, so is the cost of simulation.  This is an important concept to grasp as it relates to the costs and risks associated with training in the real aircraft equivalent.  Gone are the days when only high-dollar, twin-engine helicopters had simulators available for training.  These days we are increasingly seeing single-engine helicopter simulators entering the market.

Many people would say that there are no substitutes for real aircrafts, but when it comes to pilot training in this day and age, I totally disagree.  It is my sincere belief that modern day Level D helicopter simulators have become so realistic and capable, that the training you get in them is far better than what you get in a real helicopter.  For example, the S76C+ training I received in the CAE simulator prepared me more for emergency procedures than a real aircraft.  Whether it’s an engine failure coming off of an oilrig in marginal weather conditions, or an engine failure in IMC conditions at the beginning of an instrument approach, there is absolutely no way to test the metal of a pilot or practice those procedures in the real helicopter under similar conditions.  Thanks to the CAE experience, I am a much safer and more proficient S76 pilot!

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