February 8th, 2015
Total Hours: 153.5
The instrument training has been going well this week. You may have seen that I’m not building hours these days and that isn’t for lack of flying. How can I be flying and not getting hours? The simulator. It is the bane of many students training experience, but at the same time it is a great tool and a money saver to boot. This week I’ll try and write a little bit about the sim and what we’re doing in there.
When I say simulator I bet that one of two images pops into your head. Version one is the full movement style sim that’s set up on hydraulics and offers a (presumably) life-like flying experience. Version two would be a home computer running Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. The one we use is more like version two. A company called FlyIt makes the sim and it is basically a small trailer with a projector screen and a mockup of a Robinson helicopter. Of course there are the various computer bits and pieces to make the program run, but that is pretty much it. It really isn’t a bad mock up and I think it could be quite nice to fly but for one thing. Predictability. We all know that a simulator can’t actually feel like a real helicopter. But one could hope that if you put in a certain amount of cyclic the helicopter would react in a predictable way, like the real thing. Unfortunately sometimes a little cyclic is enough and other times full displacement of the controls is what it takes. This unpredictability can make the sim experience a touch frustrating.
So why use it? Well, the main reason is to get practice with the nuts and bolts of instrument flying. The nuts are the scanning and interpretation of the instruments and the bolts are the various procedures. Let’s talk about the scan. The scan, or cross-check, is exactly what it sounds like. It is a systematic method for checking each instrument on the panel to maintain flight. If you’ve ever peaked into a aircraft cockpit you might be thinking, “How the heck can you scan all those instruments!?!” Well we don’t have that many in the Robinson! No, the real answer is that we don’t have to scan all of them at all times. In fact we usually use three or four at the most to maintain a particular attitude. Not that we want to exclude everything else, but the various other gauges and instruments can be scanned occasionally, just like in VFR flight. While the scan is simple by nature it takes a lot more practice than one might think. It is very easy to become fixated on one instrument or to omit some from the scan completely. While working on developing the scanning techniques needed it makes a lot of sense to be sitting in the (relatively) stress free and inexpensive simulator as opposed to one of the training helicopters.
As for the procedures, these are the directions we follow to accomplish all types of things. For example, we have specific departure procedures that tell us exactly how to depart the airport. These come in the form of headings to fly and altitudes to maintain. On the flip side there are approach procedures. These are much more complex than those for departure, but in essence they give the same type of information. Where to start the approach from, what headings to fly, altitudes to be at, etc. In between departure and arrival, or enroute as we like to say, there are a few procedures to be familiar with as well. The most basic skill is simply following a specific heading and altitude. From there we learn to intercept a course, how to fly holds, and other techniques for navigation. In this day and age GPS has made navigation much easier, but we need to have additional methods and this comes primarily by the use of VOR stations. Very-high Omnibearing Receiver (VOR) stations broadcast two VHF signals that can be picked up in the aircraft. By comparing the two signals the receiver can determine the bearing to the station. We can also flip these bearings around and think of them as radials emanating from the station. The routes and procedures we use are often based off of these radials, or specific points along them.
None of the procedural work is difficult. In fact in some ways instrument flying is simpler in that all you have to do is follow the directions given by ATC. But the workload can be high and as you can imagine efficiency is very important. Having familiarity with the various tools in the cockpit and how to use them makes these tasks much easier. Again, this is the main goal of the simulator. Not to practice flying, but to work on procedures, scanning, and familiarity with the tools in the cockpit. In our sim we certainly have plenty to handle thanks to its squirrely characteristics! I find it very interesting how well I can manage one job and keep the aircraft flying where I want, but give me a new task and suddenly it all goes south. At least with a difficult simulator the transition to a nice stable helicopter will be that much easier!!