New Helicopter Simulators Displayed at Sun 'n Fun

Sim-makers target piston-powered trainer market.

X-copter Simulator

X-copter Simulator

X-copter Simulator

Some of the booths drawing attention at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo this week are those with piston-powered helicopter trainer simulators. We checked out a couple of affordable simulator versions, the Elite TH22 and X-copter flight simulators, both of which feature models from the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world — Torrance, California-based Robinson Helicopter Company.

Both systems are capable of simulating the full helicopter flight environment, including takeoff, landing, autorotation and hovering. They also both use the X-Plane 10 software from Laminar Research, which provide very realistic, detailed visuals of the flight environment. The systems are available for sale, but neither one has yet achieved FAA certification for the purpose of logging the simulated flight time.

Elite Simulation Solutions debuted the TH22 piston helicopter trainer at the show on Tuesday. It features simulated flight in the two-seat Robinson R22 and the company is currently working on adding on the four-seat R44. It features three large flat screens for the outside visual, a cockpit console with buttons and knobs, similar to what can be found in the actual helicopter, combined with computer screens for the avionics to allow for easy customization of the panel. Currently the system offers only analog gauges, but glass panel options will be available soon.

Dual controls, a cabin setup and IFR capabilities with 10 gauges are expected to be available in about three months, according to Elite's president and CEO, John Dixon. Other options that are coming are an instructor console to allow the instructor to change the weather parameters and fail systems during flight. An optional full dome cockpit setup with a 230-degree wraparound setup and an overhead screen will also be available. The company is also working on FAA certification to allow students to log flight time in the simulator. The starting price of the TH22 is $45,000.

Another platform is the X-copter - a trainer that was introduced just a few weeks ago at Heli-expo in Anaheim, California. It features a full cockpit setup that includes two touchscreen monitors for the avionics, buttons and switches. It also has a controller interface that can add weather and other parameters to the flight. The X-copter can quickly be configured to simulate analog and glass panel versions of the R22 or R44. A complete simulator package currently sells for $50,000 and, like Elite, X-copter is working on FAA certification to allow students to log the time spent flying the trainer.

Guidance Aviation, a helicopter school in Prescott, Arizona, has ordered 23 of X-copters simulators, seven of which are already in use at the school's facility in Prescott and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The consoles are connectable and the instructors can make modifications to the simulated flight environment from a tablet, connected via Wi-Fi, to add weather and fail systems in the helicopter.

Additionally, the consoles can be connected, which means the students can train while seeing other students' simulated helicopters in the area in real time, and the system integrates with ForeFlight Mobile on the iPad to allow the student to practice using the mobile platform in a simulated environment.

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