A growing imperative to bring more helicopter search and rescue training into the simulation rooms has intensified the need to create improved synthetic scenarios.
With budgets increasingly under scrutiny, global Aerospace, Defense and Security company, Thales had already produced a winning combination for ground-based navigation when upgrading the Sea King helicopter simulator at RNAS Culdrose; this was formed around Christie's next generation Matrix StIM™ LED illuminated simulation projector in conjunction with improved IG's running enhanced ThalesView software.
As a consequence, Thales has now carried out a similar upgrade of the six-axis motion platform simulator (with reconfigurable cockpit) at RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey; here an array of three dual input Christie Matrix StIM's are used in a collimated display system to provide a 240° horizontal field of view (FOV). The vertical field of view is extended to 60° by using a fourth, flat screen Christie StIM projector in the foot well chin window.
Said Thales TTSL program manager, Lorne Bacchus, who is in charge of training and simulation, "After our success at RNAS Culdrose we again opted for the StIM because these projectors have the unique capability of supporting both Night Vision Goggle (NVG) and Out The Window (OTW) viewing simultaneously. This, along with the new ThalesView visual database, has led to a dramatically improved facility."
This 1-chip WUXGA DLP® 600 lumen LED Christie projector is the first to provide independent control over both the visible and infrared spectrum and enable real-time balancing of both color and brightness levels. It is also the first simulation system designed with solid state illumination — making it virtually maintenance-free and low on energy consumption.
The RAF Valley contract, part of a Merlin PFI initiative, was issued by Search & Rescue Force (SARF) — who specified the requirement — and the MOD's DE&S (Defense Equipment and Support). It was the obvious value-for-money and efficiencies instigated at RNAS Culdrose that had informed their decision. "Improved training and cost savings were the key drivers," confirmed Bacchus. "At the same time, they could see this solution would address the issues of obsolescence."
The Culdrose experience had taught Thales a lot about installation efficiencies and the characteristics of the optical filters, so that the RAF Valley fit-out became much slicker.
Although there was a tendering process for the projectors, the Christie solution was considered best fit for purpose — with its ability to leverage a number of new technologies. The ability to achieve true-to-life NVG stimulation is the result of combining InfraRGB™ illumination (RGB and IR LEDs) with Christie InfraScene™, the unique capability of processing and displaying infrared content. Further enhancing the experience, Christie's IR-compatible MotoBlend™ maximizes life-like images of both day and night, with the filters cut to the warp profile generated by the Christie Twist™ Pro software. The net result is a seamless image blend across the array of projectors.
Other advantages of the Christie StIM, notes Lorne Bacchus, have been the intense blacks delivered from the DLP engine. "When black is black, night becomes night — and I can't say that about other projectors we have experienced. When the MOD guys first saw this at Culdrose they loved it."
Aside from obsolescence, the old system with its limited database, was also proving increasingly expensive to run and maintain. Decommissioning began last year and the new experience was operationally ready by January 2012.
It was vital that the upgraded simulator enabled trainees to see exactly what the pilots see in real world missions. With an increased library of scenarios and high detail specifications tailored for RAF Valley, the ThalesView content is manipulated through Kontron embedded computers before being sent to the projectors.
In addition to being able to look through, and then underneath and the NVG's bad weather scenarios are particularly impressive, and now show deteriorating conditions, with graduated clouds — while the depiction of heavy rain is particularly lifelike.
Thales' Site Training Manager, Wayne Taylor agrees, emphasizing that land reconnaissance also requires recirculation and the new simulator takes into account a helicopter encountering snow landing conditions to create a 'white out'. And while reality training was regularly carried out in difficult maritime and mountain conditions, such as Snowdonia, he acknowledges it is a lot less expensive to replicate this in a simulator.
With changing legislation 15% of training will need to be done synthetically by 2015 — and simulators will become an increasingly important vehicle as front line crews have to comply with a duty of care. "As a result Thales has been entrusted with more training as they offload the real world training pipeline," states Taylor. "And as we load up with more and more scenarios so there are real positive savings to be made."
In conclusion, he says, "The service from Christie has been exceptional and the robustness of the kit is second to none. It has transformed our maintenance program because the CO2 emissions have plummeted. In fact it has been a 100% success story."
"We have been able to replace our five old projectors with three Christies projectors horizontally projecting down from the platform," acknowledges Lorne Bacchus. "Not only have the FOV detail and clarity vastly improved but the Christie LED solution has resulted in significant cost savings, adding another dimension to the training experience."
Both men agree that this advanced capability bridges a critical gap in the night-vision training exercises at RAF Valley.