After having completed our AS355 typerating, we have had our first couple of days in the sim. It’s an FNPT2 procedural trainer, which means it does not have any motion to making the pilot feel control inputs. It’s mainly used, as the name suggests, to train procedures and to get used to not looking outside anymore like we are so used to.
The first things to get used to is the sensitivity of all the controls. Everything is so sensitive that all you need is a tiny touch of a pinky to induce a big pitch up or down moment. Small and gentle movements are key and require a bit of coordination to get used to.
The first couple of hours were just about mastering this. In smaller helicopters, a normal climb is usually done by raising or lowering collective. In the simulator as well as the actual aircraft, all you need is a speed increase or decrease by about 2 to 4 kts and the vertical speed will change quite considerably, enough to use this if the desired altitude change is within 100 feet.
Scanning is key to controlling the aircraft in IMC. The scan focusses mainly on the attitude indicator as this replaces your normal habit of looking outside. You always come back to this instrument before going to the next instrument in your scan. The scan changes as well depending on what you are currently doing. If it is straight and level, it is mostly AI – VSI – DI. VSI will show the altitude change (trend) quicker than looking at the altimeter. The altimeter becomes more important when levelling out. It is very easy to get distracted and get your scan interrupted, which is a sure way to let things go out of control if you’re not cautious!
As soon as we got the basics, we continued with using standby instruments, which again took some time to get used to. The standby compass is especially hard as it is affected a lot by dip errors. Some of you reading this with a PPL(H) might remember the UNOS and ANDS rules to determine whether headings will undershoot or overshoot and how ‘irrelevant it seemed’ as you have a DI anyway, right? Think again. We practiced gyro failures over and over again, using that tiny, small, simple compass to the point where I was getting crazy about how fiddly and unstable it is, but you do figure out how to use it properly using those two rules. Just so that you don’t feel like a useless clown when things do go wrong while flying in clouds. This part ended with a progress test which we both passed!
Then it was time for radio beacon tracking! Basically what we signed up for! Navigating around the globe not using any kind of visual cues. We had a 2 hour briefing covering the concepts of ADF, NDB, DME, VOR, OBS, OBI, RMI and HSI. Lots of abbreviations, but to summarise it’s just a bunch of instruments and radio aids to help you navigate. Proper use of them is key to efficient workload management (i.e reduction). During the PPL and CPL we got used to using the VOR, and standard TITS checks, but it is not everyones favourite subject. Using NDB’s is even trickier as they are prone to way more errors and it is harder to have a constant, stable reading. The margins for our test in a month are IAS +-5 kts, ALT +-50 feet and HDG +-5 degrees. Using an ADF that sometimes has an error of this entire margin seems a bit ridiculous at first, but you get used to it quite quickly. Before we knew it we were tracking accurately from beacon to beacon while keeping the parameters under control. There is a lot of things to do at once but we are improving everyday and are practicing a lot during our time off. The HSI is an awesome little instrument compared to the VOR that we are both used to as it takes into account your own heading (the compass card turns with the aircraft instead of being fixed), which make inflight calculations a lot more straightforward! See below for another picture over London, this time at night!
We both struggle with trying to do things too specifically or interpreting things too black and white (a known issue for a long time). The two major rules our (very capable and experienced) ex military instructor taught us to fix this are: SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). This helped more than we like to admit. Tomorrow we are doing a recap of everything we’ve done so far and then next week we’ll continue with NDB approaches, holdings, SIDs and STARs! Stay tuned, I’ll update as soon as I can!