The training solution of the future for helicopter hoist operations
Martin Keil, CTO and Director of Business Development for Reiser Simulation & Training, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about plans for 2023 and the launch of hoistAR, a holistic helicopter hoist training solution
How did the development of hoistAR come about? How long has it been in development and has the process been smooth?
The development for the hoistAR solution began in 2018, when we launched and qualified a ropeman solution as spart of a Full Flight Simulator (FFS). Rope rescue operations (RRO) represent an alternative to traditional hoist operations. In RRO, the helicopter approaches the rescue site and lands nearby. The rope is attached on the central hook position underneath the helicopter, the ropeman takes his position on the rope, and the helicopter lifts the ropeman to the rescue site. Once the victim has been rescued, the helicopter lands at an adequate location and the rescued victim is transferred from the rope into the helicopter and is transferred to hospital.
Reiser Simulation & Training (RST) implemented a training solution for this scenario on some FFS. The technical solution features a mechanical representation of the helicopter rear side including an operating sliding door, where the technical crewmember is located and communicates with the ropeman, either via intercom or hand signals. The training solution for the third crewmember is centred on an augmented reality (AR) approach, providing the outside view together with the ropeman hanging on the rope below as part of the virtual world.
This solution was firstly qualified as an integrated part of a dedicated training course by an EASA competent authority in 2018 to provide credits for technical crewmember training. Clearly, this focusses on crew coordination and crew resource management training. The illustration below shows this technical crew member in the aft cabin of the FFS wearing lookthrough AR goggles and holding a VR-torch. The spotlight of this torch is visible in the outside view for both pilot and technical crewmember. The technical crewmember can use it to direct the pilot at night.
Having implemented the third crewmember station on the FFS, it is only a small step to assign this third crewmember different roles, such as winch operator, police sniper or military door gunner.
Looking more closely at the needs for winch operator training, it turns out that while a CRM-centered solution is good, a training need analysis (TNA) with experienced operators revealed that more training content is required. For winch training, for example, the haptic feedback of a physical cable is essential.
Actual development of the hoistAR started early in 2022 and continues into 2023 as the integration phase commences. Currently, supply chain challenges and the resultant delivery delays are impeding its progress. However, RST is confident to have the hoistAR in qualified operation within 2023.
Have you worked with helicopter hoist teams to develop the software to ensure it fits the needs of the operators?
Yes, RST has partnered with DRF Luftrettung as the launch customer to ensure the highest training value for hoist operators. While RST brings the technical and training competence to the table, DRF Luftrettung adds the operational experience and excellence.
The entire design approach builds on a ‘tool-to-task’ concept, ensuring that the resulting training device satisfies the highest customer expectations and provides the best training experience.
To achieve this, several concept studies were conducted, partially on dedicated test setups. As an example, we evaluated the need and extent for motion representation within the HHO training device. To do this, we built a simple test stand and gave various experienced hoist operators a ‘test ride’. These concept studies led to the overall system design. During the integration phase, DRF’s experience will come to bear a second
Is it customizable to different platforms and users so they can make it right for their particular scope of operation?
The hoistAR, like all RST designs, is customizable to all operational requirements. A scenario generator allows the user to generate a wide range of challenging missions for training. Scenarios for all kinds of accident sites – on land or in the mountains, sea rescue or delivering ship pilots in all kind of weather – are available, or can individually be generated.
The hoistAR features two basic modes of operation. The stand-alone mode serves for all training focussed on the technical and procedural operation of the hoist and the hoist maneuvre. The ‘slave-to-FFS’ mode supports pilots and hoist operators training together, putting the training focus on crew resource management and mission training. For this purpose, a FFS and the hoistAR can be connected through the internet.
Our core target for 2023 is the launch of the first mobile hoistAR and its qualification as a training device
In your mind, what is the next step for simulation training technology? How can it be further improved?
To understand the development, one has to take a step back and look at the background to find the line along which training in general, and hoist training specifically, needs to develop. Apart from a limited amount of classroom training and some self-studies, almost all hoist training has previously taken place inside the helicopter.
Without official training standards in place, operators developed their own industry standards, limiting or even preventing interoperability among operators. Different operators defined the number of cycles hoist operator trainees have to complete before being declared ‘mission ready’, and according to operators we spoke to, numbers ranged from seven to 50 hoist cycles. All of which means times when a helicopter and its pilot are required to conduct these hoist practices.
Furthermore, during training operations, neither the pilot nor the helicopter are available for actual missions. Weather limitations and availability of training slots, plus adequate training areas, further limit training opportunities, while real flying increases the operation’s ecological footprint significantly. Hence, it is time to shift hoist operator training from the helicopter to suitable training devices.
Technology development is moving fast these days, and RST strives to bring these technological advantages to bear. A core building block of this is transferring training content from the helicopter to the appropriate training devices. These devices typically take advantage of developments like virtual and augmented reality, big data handling and artificial intelligence. So, the first step is the development of training devices allowing immersive simulation of real-world operations. The second step is for the hoist operator to gain their training credits on these devices.
While aviation training is strictly regulated, there are no certification standards for hoist operation available today. To make a difference, these standards are needed to ensure interoperability and planning security for operators and their personnel.
Our training devices will continuously evolve and enhance the user experience through better deployment of enhanced technological solutions
What else have you got planned for 2023 in terms of product development and meeting the training needs of SAR and HEMS organizations in the future?
Our core target for 2023 is the launch of the first mobile hoistAR and its qualification as a training device. In parallel, RST plans the development of a hoist operator training course implemented as an integral feature of the simplAIR® crew life cycle management solution. The hoistAR training device family shall grow with a stationary version and a version fitted into the aft cabin of RST’s FFS motherships.
Beyond this, our training devices will continuously evolve and enhance the user experience through better deployment of enhanced technological solutions.