Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 31 seconds.
Flight simulators have long been the preferred training method in the airline and corporate jet sectors. In the 1960s, before simulators were available, companies suffered terrible accidents while training pilots. Once simulator technology became available, managers were quick to adopt it to bring an end to the tragedies.
Today, entire programs, from initial aircraft familiarization to type checkrides, are completed on a routine basis with zero hours of actual flight time.
The helicopter community historically has been slow to adopt safety and efficiency advances proven in airplane operations. Helicopter pilot training has thus remained a mostly in-aircraft enterprise. And unfortunately, the cost of training and complexity of pilots traveling to simulator centers continues to slow the transition.
The good news is virtual reality (VR) technology is pushing the boundaries in flight simulation. Loft Dynamics, formerly VRM Switzerland, has developed an advanced technology virtual reality training system. A VR head-mounted display (HMD) combined with a high-resolution visual system provides the pilot a 360-degree 3D view and a precise representation of ground references. As well, the pilot can maneuver the helicopter precisely close to the ground, a first in helicopter simulation. In addition, VR technology enables the simulation of sun effects and shadows, as well as nighttime images inside and outside of the cockpit.
Thanks to a highly dynamic, six degrees of freedom motion platform, the pilot experiences all the movements of the helicopter and can even perceive the skids interacting with the ground during takeoff and landing. The full replica cockpit, together with Loft Dynamics’ unique pose training system, allows the pilot to manipulate the cockpit elements intuitively the same as they would in reality. All this takes the pilot into a whole-body immersion, delivering a total impression of real flight.
Adding to its utility, the simulator is designed to fit into ordinary industrial offices, thus minimizing travel and saving time for pilots.
In 2021, Loft Dynamics qualified its Robinson R22 flight simulation training device (FSTD) as FNPT II under European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations. It was the first VR training device in the world to be qualified by a major aviation authority. A year later, the team qualified its Airbus H125 FSTD in cooperation with Airbus Helicopters to EASA FSTD Level 3 (equally to FAA FTD7) . This level enables the operator to conduct EASA proficiency checks. Now, pilots can complete all their periodic H125 flight training, including checkrides, in the Loft Dynamic FSTD.
In cooperation with the Centre for Aviation of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Loft Dynamics conducted a scientific research project to evaluate the benefits of the VR FSTD for basic helicopter pilot training. Using a group of 33 non-pilots, Loft Dynamics demonstrated that private pilot license (PPL) maneuvers can be learned in the FSTD, and that knowledge can be directly transferred to the real helicopter without adaptation. This concept forms the foundation for effective scenario-based training for professional pilots.
Touchdown autorotations, hydraulic failures, loss of tail rotor thrust and avoiding or recovering from inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) can be trained realistically while flying the FSTD in a safe environment. The end result: safer daily operations with pilots better prepared for the unforeseen.
Loft Dynamics quickly began building FSTDs to fill the order backlog that had grown during the certification process. Late in 2022, the firm received $20 million in financing from Craft Ventures, Sky Dayton and UP.Partners, its first institutional placement. Loft Dynamics is now expanding into markets around the world, with its immediate focus being in the U.S.
“Now that we have completed the Airbus H125 Garmin TXi glass cockpit, we’re expanding our product line into the H145 as part of our partnership with Airbus Helicopters,” said Fabi Riesen, Loft Dynamics CEO. “And we’re excited about our entry into the U.S. market with our two new teammates, Scott Firsing and Woody McClendon. We’re already seeing some significant breakthroughs in North America. At APSCON 2023, we’re presenting selected high-resolution 3D sceneries in the U.S. for the first time. This enables U.S. operators to train in their own operation areas.
“Responses to the Loft Dynamics FSTD in the U.S. have been enthusiastic,” Riesen continued. “Key managers with major operators are interested in acquiring devices for their training departments, and we’re in discussions with a number of helicopter companies on joint projects.”
The future is bright for Loft Dynamics. The youthful energy that drives the company will soon be focused on exploiting its early accomplishments and moving the company into markets previously thought unreachable.
“I am confident of our future,” Riesen said. “We are poised to lead the industry into highly sophisticated versions of our current FSTDs. Who knows how far we will go?”
The coming years will tell, but if Loft Dynamics’ early, powerful start is any indication, the company will become a major force in the pilot training market.
Woody McClendon is North America new business manager at Loft Dynamics.