(English version)

From the most classic theory in the classroom, or in e-learning, to flying on a real helicopter, passing through static and dynamic flight simulators and the use of augmented reality. The widest range of training possibilities for helicopter crews, whether they are pilots, cabin crew or maintenance technicians, is what the Leonardo Helicopters Training Academy offers.

In 2006 AgustaWestland, what is now Leonardo Helicopters, decided to create the Training Academy, in Sesto Calende, a few kilometers from the Vergiate plant, home of helicopters assembly lines and delivery facility.Although the attendees of the Training Academy are mainly pilots and technicians, the training offer is aimed at all the figures who work around the helicopter, therefore also the on-board operators, whether civil or government, hoist operators, aero-rescuers, doctors and nurses, logistics. The sector that represents a novelty, and benefits from the latest generation technologies, is the sector dedicated to the training of the ‘cabin crew’ using the augmented reality.

Partial view of the hall that houses the Mithos system, the mock-up of an AW169, the climbing wall

The world of air rescue in one indoor environment.
One of the main buildings of the Academy is dedicated to the training of pilots and cabin crew destined to operate with the medium-heavy Leonardo family of machines, namely the AW139 AW169 AW189 models. Not a random choice, and we’ll see why, to combine the full flight simulators for pilots on the one hand, and the room equipped for cabin-crew training on the other, with the offices for the management and planning of the respective activity.In the past ten years Leonardo has been supporting customers in training their SAR and HEMS crews on real helicopters, at the customer’s premises; a team made up of a pilot, winch operator and rescuer carries out consistent training, from ab initio level up to advanced levels, such as rescue on the sea at night, or in the mountains, with the use of NVG visors.

Obviously this activity is expensive and some aspects of the missions cannot be tested for obvious safety reasons; from these considerations was born the idea of developing the simulation also for the ‘Cabin Crew’ which led to the creation of the MITHOS system, acronym of Modular Interactive Trainer for Helicopter OperatorS, applying the new, now mature, technology of augmented reality. The Mithos system incorporates two simulation possibilities in a single structure being able to use the real winch to reproduce the safety aspect of the work, for the benefit of the hoist operator and all the HEMS-SAR cabin crew members, and that of augmented reality that allows the hoist operator to work in a highly immersive virtual environment that reproduces SAR and emergency scenarios. It is a highly innovative system, in continuous evolution, used for training but also as a laboratory for developing and testing the innovations that will be proposed to the market.

The Mithos system in virtual reality modality

MITHOS is a mixed environment, the physical part of which is made up of a real-size simulacrum of the cabin of an AW189 (which, however, thanks to the settings of numerous cameras and sensors, also reproduces the dimensions of the smaller machines AW139 and AW169, depending by the customer’s need and request) equipped with the hoist and relative pendant, sliding side door and seats, while the virtual part is the ‘out of window’ environment, i.e. the scenarios and the protagonists of the simulated missions, as well as the cabin environment and cockpit, all visualized thanks to the visor. While using viewers that are typically virtual reality, the level of fidelity in the reproduction of the real world in the virtual world is very high and the operator has the sensation of being immersed in the scenario that is proposed to him in the viewer; perception increased by listening to voices and sounds and the possibility of virtual manipulation of objects and commands thanks to the use of a sensory glove; the spectrum of actions that can be simulated is very broad, covering all phases of the mission.

For example, it is possible to carry out the cabin check before opening the sliding-door in flight, which is a delicate and dangerous phase if not performed correctly; the MITHOS presents to the hoist technician, who has put on the gloves and visor and is secured to the cabin ceiling with the harness, a series of 3D objects commonly found in the cabin (medical backpack, flight backpack, etc.) that must be virtually touched and stored safely; in the same way he must verify that the virtual people on board are fastened.The vision is so real that the operator’s movements inside the cabin, as well as those during the winch work phases, are exactly proportionate to the cabin itself, being able to find the door handle exactly where it is, so as the foot find the footboard with confidence.

Two possible scenarios reproduced in the visor

The hoist operations are simulated by reproducing realistic scenarios, which can be on land or sea, day or night, with the sun or with the rain, which allows to develop normal or special operations, as well as emergency situations. The lowering and recovery phases see the simulated presence of the rescuer, the stretcher, the winch cable and its oscillations; all so realistic as to make the HHO assume the correct working position as in reality, holding the winch cable that does not exist. It is possible to read on the pendant the meters of cable during descent and recovery, see the rescuer approaching the ground, lower and recover the virtual stretcher and introduce it into the cabin.

In addition to learning the procedures and actions, the training has the purpose of teaching how to work safely; the single operator may have acquired incorrect habits over time, here he can discuss and refine the procedures and teamwork. For example, a dangerous malfunction that is little considered is the cable-failure inside the hoist, an event that leads to blockage of the winch and often there is a tendency to force its operation on the controls until the cable breaks; in the face of this situation there is a procedure that can be implemented in simulation.

Another critical situation is the ‘spinning’, i.e. the entry into rotation of the person and/or stretcher hanging from the hook; in this case it is possible to reproduce the pendulum and rotation effect, as well as flying in order to stop the dangerous action.An emergency situation that one hopes never to have to experience is ‘cable-cutting’, which can be reproduced very realistically both in the activation and in the visualization of the consequences, an action that is inserted in a dedicated flight profile that reflects the real one, because the cable is hardly cut during a smooth flight or in hovering, but in the presence of a serious problem such as an engines failure.The MITHOS will soon be connected to one of the Full Flight Simulators in the adjacent room, dedicated to pilot training, so that the flight crews, pilots and cabin crew, can ‘fly’ the missions together by talking to each other, therefore you can also work on crew resource management.Whether the MITHOS works in a stand-alone configuration or is connected to an FFS, the IOS Instructor Operation Session figure will always be present in charge of creating scenarios, emergencies and malfunctions.

The more traditional hoist training, using real hoist, winch, stretcher.  On background the climbing wall

The Academy has created a training program dedicated to doctors and nurses, consequently in the same room that houses the MITHOS system other more traditional structures dedicated to their training have been placed. It is a basic training that includes a first theoretical part in the classroom to learn what a helicopter is, how it flies, what is on board, what the Italian and European HEMS rules are. This is followed by the practical part for which the tools available include a climbing wall, useful for acquiring familiarity with personal ‘safety’ equipment and how to move in a hostile environment, assemble the stretcher, sling the patient; this for operators who come from a work situation in a hospital environment and must acquire specific knowledge for work in the area and with helicopters.

Another work tool is the mock-up of an AW169 with which crew members are trained to interact with the helicopter, learn the correct methods of embarking and disembarking, handling the stretcher, evacuation in case of emergency, the eventuality of smoke in the cabin, the removal of the windows and other more or less recurring situations. Doctors, nurses and rescuers can also try all the manoeuvres with the real hoist installed on the MITHOS, then try entering and exiting the cabin hanging from the hook, lowering and recovery, with and without a stretcher. A team-building scenario is also envisaged in which the crew is faced with an impossible-to-solve scenario in which, acting as a team, they must be able to find answers that give some solution, even if not optimal. The ab-initio course lasts about five days; students learn about the ‘non-technical skills’, the ‘decision making’, the ‘situational awareness’, how to communicate.

The mock-up of an AW169 with which crew members are trained to interact with the helicopter

If it is true that, for example, it is not possible to carry out the exact same mission in the mountains that an operator does in real life, it comes very close and it is done with some advantages: in addition to reproducing the aforementioned emergency situations, and not only them, there are obvious logistic and cost advantages. Customers can do training and recurrent training for all staff in a protected environment in total safety; the activity can be planned at any time of the year, day or night, without taking the helicopter away from operational service, or without having to use another one alongside it. All this reduces the number of flight hours on the real machine, reducing costs and also obtaining a significant reduction in the ecological impact.

Flight simulators for pilots.
The Full Flight Simulators of AW139 AW169 and AW189 are housed in the same room; dimensions, visual impact and their functioning are similar to others in use in the world and so well known, as their use is from years became a consolidated practice. It must be said that Leonardo began to develop, about 15 years ago, the data packages necessary for simulator manufacturing companies to integrate them into their systems, going so far as to provide the entire simulation part adhering to the machine, from the cockpit to the avionics, the autopilot and all the helicopter components.

In the meantime, Leonardo has developed its knowledge and skills to be able to create simulators made entirely in-house, while maintaining collaboration with other companies. An effort dictated by the need to simulate the helicopter as faithfully as possible, something not entirely achievable with generic simulators created for both the fixed and rotary wings.

The traditional Full Flight Simulators of AW139 AW169 and AW189, and two view of the cockpit simulation; to be noted the faithful reproduction of the City of Rome

Therefore Leonardo orients technology towards the helicopter world, managing to reproduce specificities of the sector: for example, reproducing the vibration of the helicopter is something which, although not 100% relevant in training, transmits that realism and immersion that increase the perceived value. At the time of the visit it was possible to see two simulators produced in-home based on the requirements of the Italian Air Force and another foreign Air Force in an advanced assembly stage.

Augmented reality technology to train pilots.
In recent years the department that deals with the development and creation of simulators has also addressed the new augmented reality technology, the first fruit of which is the MITHOS that we already known.Having completed the flight simulation for the winch/cabin crew, Leonardo moved on to creating the simulation for the pilot. The project, called VxR Simulator, was launched in November 2022 and the first ‘flights’ were performed at the end of February 2023. It is the new frontier of flight simulation, it is a small instrument, the space of a cockpit two-seater (in this case an AW119, development for the AW09 and AW109 is planned) designed to be placed in any room or office three meters high; few components, maintenance costs reduced to a minimum, overall cost a fraction of that of an FFS.

The VxR simulator for pilot’s training

Designed for smaller helicopters, a market segment where the use of simulation in training can be useful to increase flight safety; currently on small machines the course is all done on real helicopters, using this system you will be able to do a minimal number of real flight hours. Since there is no specific regulation for this type of system, it has been designed to obtain the equivalent of an EASA FTD level 3 or FAA FTD level 7.
In practice the cockpit is for a single pilot, therefore half cabin which however in the virtual vision gives the sensation of having a pilot in the next seat; the panels are physically present but when used with the viewer they become virtual while still giving the physical sensation of the controls. The virtual vision is global, so much so that by maneuvering a turn and looking over your shoulder you can see the surrounding environment as in reality.

Partial view of the maintenance hall; in the foreground an AW139

Maintenance training.
In the classroom, or in distance learning, the technician learns the theoretical issues related to helicopter maintenance, and then undergoes training on a real or realistic helicopter, available for all models of the Leonardo helicopter family; they are made with real components, both in radio, landing gear, hydraulic systems, transmission, engine etc., so you can do all the maintenance operations that are done in the hangar. The course lasts two or three weeks, depending on the type, and allows the technician to learn how to carry out the daily inspection, servicing, 25-hour, 100-hour, annual, all functional tests, both avionics, mechanical and engine. Once the final practical exam has been passed, the technician obtains his ‘assessment’ with which he obtains the automatic transcription by ENAC (Italian National Civil Aviation Authority), or similar authorities of other states (Leonardo Academy is also certified by the US, Canadian, Australian and other minor authorities).

In the maintenanca hall

The courses are available both for basic training and for refresher courses, as well as for qualification for higher inspections for which the technician can learn to carry them out in the Academy before implementing them on real machines. This is an important aspect for the customer, because machine downtime is reduced and the machine itself is not put at risk. Then there are the laboratories where courses are held for structural repairs, blades, and more specialized interventions.

Last but not least, the virtual maintenance simulator, a tool that reproduces the entire helicopter in every smallest detail, down to the single screw in 3D. It is used to learn the disassembly and reassembly processes, to try to carry out maintenance that is rarely done; for example, every five years the tank is dismantled, an action that can be simulated in this virtual environment in such a way as to know the difficulties and steps that we will have to face in reality.

In the maintenance hall

DSC Diagnostic Service Tower: the Digital Service
It is the sector in which a team of analysts with mixed skills, design – support engineering – diagnostics, working together develop digital services and data analytics. By aggregating the data of thousands of helicopters in service in the world, enormous value data is obtained, which are not just statistics, but thanks to them customers can make fleet management more efficient, thanks to predictive analyzes they can optimize stocks of spare parts and machine downtime for maintenance; another benefit is the possibility of preventing a breakdown and disembarking a component before it breaks, an action that allows you to prepare in advance for the intervention, therefore limiting machine downtime, reducing the costs of the intervention, preventing risks and collateral damage. For the latest generation machines, the Digital Service diagnostic station receives flight and maintenance data in real time via wi-fi.

FOC – Fleet Operations Centre
It is an operations room, active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which supports civil and military helicopter fleets in AOG Aircraft On Ground situations; the operators can be reached via the Customer Portal, by telephone or dedicated email, and give an immediate response to the customer in the event of a breakdown. The people in charge are engineers who basically have three different skills: supporting the customer in analyzing the documents he has in his possession (for example the maintenance manual) and doing so in the critical moment of a forced landing emergency; support him in the case of an unusual emergency, for example the helicopter struck by lightning, an event that may call into question the possibility of continuing the flight, therefore by analyzing the available parameters the engineers can give an immediate response or activate a consultation with others experts in the company and decide the best action to take; the third is of a logistical nature since, being connected in real time with all the warehouses in the world, when faced with the need for any component it is possible to give the availability and an estimated delivery time of the piece. In the world there are two other FOCs in addition to the one in Sesto Calende: one is located in Great Britain in Yeovil, the other in the United States in Philadelphia; the three centers are connected to each other.

Demand for virtual training has grown so much that the Training Academy virtually never closes. The typical day begins at 4.00 in the morning with the pilots’ briefings and then activities with the simulators from 5.00. The last virtual flight of the day ‘lands’ at 2.00 am the following night, and there are only four closed days per year. At the end of the first year of activity, in 2006/2007, approximately 600 pilots and maintenance technicians were trained; in the last four years the average, at the Sesto Calende location, has fluctuated between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors, an exponential growth which is the result of the level of technology and product offered.

The success of the AW139 was the driving force, but now the other machines have also conquered an important space so much so that, for example, the flight simulator of the AW169 totals 5,000 flight hours per year. At the Academy there are approximately 23,000 hours of flight per year, to which must be added the hours of flight on real helicopters at the Vergiate ATO which is located a few kilometers away. Other satellite offices, smaller than the Sesto Calende office, are located in the United States in Philadelphia with the AW139 AW169 AW609 simulators, in Malaysia with the soon-to-be-delivered AW139 and AW189, in Great Britain and in Poland.
Furthermore, there are authorized centers in other parts of the world: Australia, Brazil and Japan for the AW139, Qatar for the AW139 and AW189, the UK with the AW189, and the HH-101 in Norway. Overall, over 41,000 flight hours were produced in 2022.
Numbers that testify to the importance of after-sales customer service, support and training, so much so that in 2022 it capitalized on 37% of the revenues of Leonardo’s helicopter division.

If you want to increase your knowledge about HELICOPTERS and HEMS/SAR buy the three books published by Operazioni Volo:
– VERTICAL RESCUE The HEMS on Italy, from the Alps to the Sicily
– SAVING LIVES The Italian Air Force and Air Rescue.
– HELICOPTERS AT WORK ten aerial works with helicopters


Please have a look to the LIBRI BOOKS page on this site for preview and more information ( www.operazionivolo.com/en/my-books-3/ )
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