Air Force goes hi-tech in flight training

Ray Maota

The simulator is designed to train pilots and flight engineers operating Eurocopter’s AS332 Super Puma and certain compatible machines, including the SAAF’s Oryx medium utility helicopter, manufactured by Denel.
(Image: Military Factory)

The company which operates and maintains the simulator is Sim Aerotraining, a French aviation training company whose Gauteng headquarters will house the machine.
(Image: Eurocopter Southern Africa)

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The first full-motion helicopter flight simulator to arrive in Africa will be used by pilots of the South African Air Force (SAAF) as part of their training programme.

Located at aerospace manufacturer Denel’s facility in in Bonaero Park in the east of Johannesburg, the second-hand simulator was acquired by Eurocopter Southern Africa, and was previously used by the Swiss Air Force, originally commissioned there in 1993.

Of the approximately 2 500 hours available for use by air forces on the simulator, the SAAF will use 1 000 per year.

Eurocopter Southern Africa CEO Fabrice Cagnat said his company is able to provide a diverse range of training programmes by bringing the simulators closer to the pilots who need them for training.

“We are confident that the simulator will add significant value, not just in terms of monetary savings for the SAAF, but in real terms, where the object is to save people’s lives.”

The simulator is designed to train pilots and flight engineers operating Eurocopter’s AS332 Super Puma and certain compatible machines, including the SAAF’s Oryx medium utility helicopter, manufactured by Denel.

With the full-motion version, chopper crews have the chance to hone their skills in all conceivable types of potential emergencies, including some which would be too risky to try with a real helicopter.

They can also train as if in mountain and search-and-rescue operations and can use night-vision goggles to make the scenarios as authentic as possible.

“Positioning the simulator in Johannesburg, which is easy to get to, is an attractive proposition for all other Super Puma operators,” said Cagnat, adding that the company has noted strong interest from other African countries and further abroad.

The company which operates and maintains the simulator is Sim Aerotraining, an international aviation training company whose Gauteng headquarters will house the machine, while Eurocopter focuses on the marketing and sale of the simulator hours.

“We could not have done it ourselves in a cost-competitive manner,” said Cagnat, referring to their decision to use Sim for training.

Certification for civil use is not yet ready, but Eurocopter is working to achieve this.

Improved training programme

The SAAF currently does not operate the Super Puma, but utilises the locally built and very similar Denel Oryx – which is also developed by Eurocopter. The advantage for the SAAF is that the simulated training will cost 25% less than the actual training using actual aircraft.

Up to now South Africa has had to send pilots to Europe to train on simulators there. This meant added budget spent on travel, accommodation and visa costs as well as a stipend for each person and no-show cancellation fees.

Acting director for helicopter systems at the SAAF, Colonel Hardus Engelbrecht, said pilots who ordinarily use the Rooivalk and AgustaWestland A109 light utility aircraft will now get the opportunity to train on the simulator.

“The current plan is that about 140 pilots and flight engineers will train on the system every year,” he said.

SAAF crews need up to 12 hours of emergency training per year, currently all done on real aircraft. The force hopes to reduce these to three hours on the aircraft and nine on the simulator.

The acquisition of the technology also coincides with the appointment of the SAAf’s new chief, Major-General Fabian Zimpande Msimang, who starts occupying his position in October.