Flying a helicopter is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. That’s one reason why we don’t put pilots behind the real thing right away. Instead, we put them into special helicopter simulators.
Without these simulators, we wouldn’t have nearly as many pilots as we do today. However, many people still don’t understand the importance of these simulators and the role they play in the lives of pilots and non-pilots alike.
Ready to learn more about this unique subject? Keep reading to discover the various uses of a helicopter simulator.
On the most basic level, a helicopter simulator is anything that simulates some aspect of helicopter operation. The idea behind this is simple: before we put someone in a position to handle the expensive hardware of an actual helicopter, we need to make sure they have received sufficient training on the ground first.
Modern helicopter simulators are very advanced (more on this in a minute). Many people look at these advanced simulators and assume that simulation technology must be a relatively new development.
It’s true that the really cutting-edge simulators are more recent. But the history of flight simulators actually stretches back to World War I!
We would consider these simulators pretty basic by modern standards. Nonetheless, these ground-based simulators helped teach pilots how to fire at moving targets in the air–a valuable skill during wartime.
Nowadays, special combinations of computer programs, virtual reality programs, and special hardware help to simulate the experience of flying a helicopter. And there are different kinds of simulators to help pilots practice different aspects of flying. This is easier than building a “one size fits all” helicopter simulator.
Now you know a bit more about what helicopter simulators are. But that still leaves an important question: how do these simulators help pilots prepare for flying a helicopter?
As we mentioned before, different simulators help pilots to prepare for different things. Modern vertical motion simulators help pilots train in different kinds of cockpits. The simulators themselves can be outfitted with various cockpits, helping to give pilots a variety of vehicles to practice their skills on. As the name implies, this simulator helps pilots to prepare for the vertical lift and other vertical motions associated with flying a helicopter.
Other simulators are designed to specifically help pilots withstand the effects of disorientation. When flying a helicopter, disorientation can endanger the life of the pilot and any of his passengers. Therefore, it’s important for this special kind of simulator to help pilots develop tolerance against these disorienting effects. This is typically accomplished by subjecting the pilot to intense “G” forces that would disorientate or knock out someone who is not ready for it.
However, the most basic use of helicopter simulators is to simply prepare pilots for the act of flying. These simulators help pilots practice the various motions associated with flying a helicopter. Studies have shown that intensive training helps pilots to develop a kind of muscle memory based on these different motions. To make the entire experience more lifelike, some simulations include features such as vibrating seats that help make everything seem a bit more realistic.
Another effect of helicopter training in pilots is helping them practice aircraft efficiency. This refers to fuel economy and how to effectively conserve fuel while in the air.
Learning how to fly in a fuel-efficient way is surprisingly complicated. Many factors determine the fuel economy of the helicopter: this can include how aerodynamic it is, how heavy it is, and the efficiency of the helicopter’s propulsion.
Remember all those times when you wondered whether you’d use those math skills in real life? Pilots actually have to complete complex calculations every day as part of safely flying a helicopter.
And just like a hard math class, most people aren’t successful at everything right away. With helicopter simulators, pilots can get all the virtual hours of practice they need to ensure that they have an easy time when flying the real thing.
A big reason why pilots need helicopter simulator training is that helicopter technology is constantly advancing. Imagine trying to use a modern computer when you had previously only used a computer from the 1980s; it would be virtually impossible for you to understand all the changes!
Therefore, helicopter simulators help to introduce pilots to key technological changes over time. This is critical because the history of helicopters is filled with many changes.
Some people attribute the earlier helicopter designs to Leonardo da Vinci. We didn’t have the word “helicopter” until 1861, and the French inventor who coined the term never saw his helicopter actually leave the ground. In fact, we wouldn’t see a flying version of a real helicopter until 1901.
The next century saw extreme development of different helicopters and different helicopter technology. Sadly, this was largely driven by war: various conflicts around the world encouraged different countries to build helicopters that were faster, sturdier, and more deadly than their competition.
Helicopter simulator training grew up alongside the helicopter itself. As you might expect, the military was the earliest proponent of simulator training because it helped protect their resources: they couldn’t spare the soldiers or the helicopters that came from poorly-trained pilots crashing their hardware.
Now, simulators are used around the world. It is no longer confined to military use: many private corporations use simulators to help train their pilots. And even private citizens get in on the game with at-home simulators that are surprisingly realistic. These may range from simple video game simulations all the way to complex simulators that rival those used by military pilots!