Taking Flight With Feet on Terra Firma

In a small, darkened room with no windows, two Canadian pilots sit at 90 degrees to one another, eyes fixed on the images in front of them. Several computers hum in the background while purposeful voices crackle over the radio.

With no ground crew, heli-pad or fuel, two Griffon helicopters take to the skies to join two American Apache helicopters. The two Canadian pilots head for a village in Kosovo to conduct a reconnaissance mission — all without leaving the small, darkened room.

Not possible, you say? Not the same two pilots? It is and they are. Resembling a high-tech video game on a huge flat screen, the Networked Tactical Simulator or NTS in pilot-speak, allows Griffon pilots to practise tactical procedures in a virtual reality.

The NTS is an interactive static simulator. It is not a full motion simulator and was not designed to teach pilots how to fly the Griffon helicopter. Rather, it was developed to provide an artificial environment in which pilots can practise manoeuvres and tactics that are otherwise cost-prohibitive or difficult to replicate.

The simulator consists of off-the-shelf computer hardware, a 10-metre by two-metre screen, three 53-cm monitors that replicate the Griffon instrument panel, and high-resolution 3-D graphics. A basic shell of a cockpit was designed to mimic the front part of the helicopter to include the windshield, seat and flight controls.

Think of it as a home theatre entertainment unit on the biggest flat screen you’ve ever seen.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), an agency within the Department of National Defence that provides leading-edge science and technology for the Canadian Forces, started the Tactical Aviation Mission System Simulation (TAMMS). Researchers from the psychology department at Carleton University in Ottawa also took part in the project’s beginning.

Currently, there are four networked tactical simulators — two with 403 Helicopter Operational Training Squadron at CFB Gagetown, one at Carleton University, and one at xwave, a St. John’s, Nfld.-based IT services company that provides networking technology, allowing the simulators to “talk” with one another.

“The unique aspect of this simulator is its networking capabilities,” says Jarrett Meadows, a network engineer with xwave.

Linked through an encrypted wide area network, simulators from various locations across Canada will allow pilots to communicate with one another and fly formation missions. The simulators are also highly mobile.

“They were designed to be portable,” says Meadows. “Ideally, they can be moved to any location and set up and working within 10 hours.”

A proof of concept exercise was held at 403 Squadron over a two-day period in March 2005. The objective was to test the interconnectivity of 403 Squadron’s two simulators with Apache and Black Hawk simulators at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

“There were few communications problems. The objective of working with the American pilots and flying formation missions was achieved,” said Capt. Tony Stuckless, a Griffon helicopter pilot at 1 Wing.

For pilots, the real advantage of the networked simulator is the opportunity to train together.

“We’re able to work with our American counterparts and become familiar with their terminology and procedures, which are slightly different than ours,” says Stuckless.

And, according to Lt.-Col. Herm Harrison, Chief of Staff at 1 Wing, this system has the added virtue of being safe, economical and effective.

“The resources saved, both time and money, make this simulator an ideal tool to enhance Griffon pilots’ tactical skills,” he says.  However, Griffon pilots need not worry that their ‘real’ flying time will be reduced.

“This simulator was designed to supplement pilot training, not replace actual flying hours,” says Harrison.

Additional phases of the project remain before simulators are rolled out in full force. Eventually, there should be two simulators at each of the six Griffon squadrons located across the country.

In the future, a main simulator dubbed “the mother ship” will receive upgrades and subsequently distribute them electronically to the other 12 — keeping the Griffon simulator fleet modernized and relevant. In this way, one day Griffon pilots from across Canada will train and fly together, safely rehearsing realistic scenarios in far away lands — all without leaving the ground.


By Capt. K.J. Saunders, 1 Wing Public Affairs Officer

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