Full flight simulators

October 13, 2013 by Tim McAdams

Flight training in full flight simulators (FFS) has been the standard in large fixed-wing aircraft for years. In the past, there were only a couple of helicopter simulators. These were mainly large twin-engine IFR helicopters like the Sikorsky S76 and Bell 430. Recently, simulator manufacturers have been introducing more helicopter devices and seeking certification at higher FFS levels (levels B, C and D with full motion capabilities).

Many operators and airframe manufacturers have already acquired low level non-motion FTDs (Flight Training Devices) to supplement flight training in the aircraft. With computer power and visual systems getting better and cheaper, higher level simulators are becoming more popular. Even for light single-engine helicopters operators are starting to embrace simulator training. Especially for FAA Part 135 operators who can complete required annual check-rides in a FFS.

During the next 5 to 10 years, more helicopter training will be done in simulators. Hopefully, this will lead to more frequent and comprehensive training that will help reduce the accident rate, especially for EMS operators.

  • Ehud Gavron

    I’ve had some training on FSI’s D-Level EC135 sim and the FlyIt B206 and R44 sims.

    Unfortunately even with all that money, the feel of an aircraft isn’t there. I wish I could
    better explain it except to say that inertia and momentum and vibration are things that
    subtly change through flight maneuvers…


  • Avi Weiss

    I’ll add to Ehud’s points, As I have had time in both fixed and full-motion sims.

    Modelling fixed-wing translational and rotational flight dynamics is extremely difficult with a device that has very limited range of both relative to the “real things”. Add in the higher-order dynamic elements such as rotor vibration, hydraulic system hysteresis, and uncoupled yaw moments and the modelling problem gets even more difficult to provide realistic sensory input to “seasoned” helicopter pilots whose visual and vestibular systems have already become fine tuned to the “real thing”.

    In fact, I have found that other than for procedural training of non-rated pilots, many helicopter pilots find simulators to be net-negative experiences for flight proficiency or even training, ESPECIALLY non-motion sims that have “wrap around” screens, thus further misdirecting the linkage between visual and acceleration cues, and causing several pilots, including me to get “motion sickness” (not d the classic g-loading version, but driven by perceptual confusion by the conflicting signalling it is getting from those sets of cues).

    Again, for procedural training, they are invaluable, but for actual training on airframe performance, and control system input, as well as developing “feel” of aircraft flight characteristics, they still come up woefully short of the mark. I would be hesitant to sign-off ANY pilot who was solely trained in one for rotor-craft flight.

  • Chuck


    Who is suggesting anyone be signed off for rotorcraft flight after they were only trained in a simulator? I didn’t read that anywhere.
    And what is procedural training? Never heard that term.
    Finally, how do you explain ZERO time pilots who have spent hours playing Microsoft Flight Sim climbing into an R22 and holding
    a steady hover with virtually no instructor assistance?
    I think these sims are invaluable when used in conjunction with regular flight training.

  • http://www.helioperations.co.uk Heli Operations

    A very interesting post thank you for sharing. Here at Heli Operations we work closely with the world’s largest helicopter operators, providing crews, equipment, training and support to specialist operations. We wish you and all your readers our very best and look forward to reading future posts too.

  • Daniel Lee

    Hilarious Hawaii 5-0 episode. Man that weighs about 400 lbs trained solely on a computer based helicopter simulator that didn’t even have pedals. I didn’t see a radio either to learn tower communications.

    By the end of the show he was flying three passengers in a turbine Bell! In reality he wouldn’t fit in the seat, he couldn’t start the engine, he couldn’t even turn on the radio to call the tower, no operator would even let him get near a chopper, etc.

    It was simulator topic related…

  • Daniel Lee

    I think a full-motion simulator might be good for practicing dangerous manuevers you wouldn’t want to do in flight, such as low-g, settling with power near the ground, etc.

  • Carlos Rodriguez

    Why has my comment been waiting for moderation since last month? Does anyone check these?

  • Carlos Rodriguez

    So I’ve been an AOPA member for over 3 decades and I posted here earlier but it stayed at ‘awaiting moderation” for weeks and now I see it was deleted. So AOPA now is censoring posts from members? It didn’t have anything offensive in fact it was very positive about my experience in simulators locally and internationally but it was deleted. AOPA seems to be really changing lately, what a shame.

  • Michiel Schuitemaker

    I have a PC setup with various helicopters simulators on it and found X-Plane the best. That being said, none of the helicopter models available come very close to flying in real life. The sim is good for practicing hovers and forward flight. None of the models can simulate autorotations for example. In my experience, these consumer simulators are fun but absolutely no substitute for actual flight…