Running the day-to-day operations at Hovercontrol and over-seeing our helicopter training activities gives our staff and instructors a great insight into what is working in helicopter flight simulation and what is not in regards to training. We listen to first hand accounts of our students beginning their real-world helicopter flight training, and those just going to their local flight school to take a few helicopter learning flights for the first time in their lives. We hear it all. The good, the bad, and the...excellent.
While we could probably prepare a list of 100 helicopter training tasks that can be learned and practiced on PC-based helicopter simulators, here are at least 10 common helicopter training tasks that are effectively learned on PC-based helicopter simulators.
#1. Altitude Precision
Consistent and precise control of altitude throughout the helicopter training flight is a task that is easy to practice in the simulator, and can provide great benefits to students and the experienced alike. Because PC-based helicopter simulators do not reproduce some of the physical cues available in the real helicopter, students can learn to be even more aware of the altitude and changes by using more of their senses to detect changes that need to be corrected. Staying at the desired altitude while performing other important tasks is a critically important skill, and can be learned and continually practiced using PC-based helicopter simulation.
#2. Ground course precision
One thing that helicopter training instructors love to do to their new student pilots is to ask them to track a line on the ground (such as a highway or train tracks) while at the same time compensating for a crosswind, or wind that is shifting directions. This skill can be practiced so effectively in the PC-based helicopter simulator that doing it for the first time in the actual cockpit is simply a nonevent. It is the type of skill that can be transitioned from the simulated world to the actual world with nearly 100% efficacy. This same skill applies to many of the early helicopter training tasks given to new students, such as flying s-turns over a straight line, or flying straight boxes in the wind. These can all be effectively learned, practiced, and MASTERED in the PC-based helicopter flight simulator.
#3. Altitude, Power, and Airspeed relationship Management
Whether you prefer the trade-off triangle paradigm for teaching this subject, or another approach, there are few hands-on methods for training this subject that are more visually effective or as engaging as PC-based helicopter simulation. Learning the critical and fundamental relationships between altitude, available power, and airspeed in helicopters is something that requires a good deal of explanation and practice. We for one recommend learning this in an environment that does NOT cost the student $300/hour. The fluid relationship of these forces can be training, learned, and effectively practiced in PC-based helicopter flight simulators and forms one of the backbone components of any helicopter training curriculum.
#4. Radio Communications
That's right. There are more than one large flying communities on the internet where student helicopter pilots can feel comfortable to practice their radio etiquette. Not only becoming comfortable with their own voice, but building their confidence and learning how to communicate their intentions while performing other important tasks at the same time. Students do NOT need to spend $300/hour to learn or hone this skill, nor should they. They can find communities where they can literally surround themselves with knowledgeable friends and instructors who are happy to lend advice or instruction on this type of skill.
#5. Radio Navigation
Experienced instructors and safety experts agree, one of the major weaknesses of even some high-time helicopter pilots is the inability to use basic radio-navigation techniques when it matters most. Unintentional flight into instrument meteorological conditions is still a primary killer of pilots every year, both new pilots and the experienced. Basic radio navigation is one of the fundamental piloting skills that is a home-run, slam-dunk, touch-down in helicopter flight simulators for the personal computer. The student can practice radio based navigation until the use of this equipment is entirely second nature. Because helicopter training is so expensive, one could argue that new helicopter student pilots are actually implicitly encourage to NOT focus on this important life-saving skill. Because if there are other skills that take priority when it comes to testing time, they are going to spend their $300/hour on those skills first. Radio navigation can be learned, and practiced with excellent results in PC-based helicopter simulators.
6. Geographic Familiarization
Why should a student pilot learn his way around the local terrain and landmarks at $300/hour? When they could learn the important terrain features, roads, railways, airports, and waterways on their own time. Data now exists to put extremely accurate geographic, road, water, and landmark data into the PC-based helicopter simulators. These products are available to all users, are easy to use, and typically cost less than $50 or are entirely free. Simply put, a student's time should be spent learning how to fly helicopters, not paying his instructor for a tour. Even if it takes a new student pilot only 3 flights to become very comfortable with his local areas features, that is approximately $900 that could have been more effectively spent, and more focused on fundamental tasks related to training.
#7. Approach Technique
Especially for students that have some fixed-wing training time and are attempting to convert their existing skills to helicopters, approach technique can be a unique challenge. Learning to bring an aircraft towards the ground "butt-first" is a challenging new skill for any student pilot. This skill can be effectively taught, and practiced in PC-based helicopter simulators. To such a point where new students can feel very comfortable with intimidating first time concepts such as nose-up while sinking, and controlling airspeed with the cyclic while controlling sink rate with the collective.
#8. The Hover
Yes, we have stolen the crown jewel. When your next student shows up and demonstrates a rock-solid hover in the first 5 minutes of training, though he has never been inside real cockpit before, you'll have to figure out what to do with that extra 5-6 hours you would have spent teaching him that one task at $300/hour. With the proper hardware, and the right amount of practice, learning to hover in the PC-based helicopter simulator is very effective. While this skill does not translate 100% to the actual flight environment, it can easily prepare a student to the point where the forces involved are well understood, and its only a matter of becoming comfortable with the sensitivity of the controls. This can take as little as 5 minutes. Hey, at $300/hour, that's only $25. Who would believe that the cost of a hover has come down to $25.
#9. Air Traffic Control Procedures and Communications
Once again, a skill that is not actually a flight skill, is costing new helicopter students $300/hour to learn in the actual cockpit. When for as little as $50 in software/hardware, a new student pilot can practice this skill with live human air-traffic-controllers in simulated flight environments as often as they want to, for free. They can practice until they are extremely comfortable with air traffic control procedures and communications. With the capabilities that exist in the world of PC-based helicopter simulators and the on-line flight simulation communities, your students should be able to show up to their first less with this particular skill....in the bag.
#10. Taking hundreds and/or thousands of dollars out of the wallets of new student helicopter pilots as they learn skills in the actual cockpit at $300/hour that could just as easily be learned on a highly-affordable home PC-based helicopter flight simulator, while at the same time keeping those expensive in-cockpit hours from being used to teach other skills.
Well, this is one helicopter training task that can still only be learned in the actual cockpit under the supervision of a qualified instructor.