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Air Force’s new simulator install versus COVID-19

Installing a brand new simulator in the middle of a Covid-19 lockdown isn’t the easiest task.

14 April, 2023

It was a case of going with what you’ve got when the Defence Force received its new NH90 helicopter simulator, but not the installers to fit it.

Ministry of Defence Acquisition Lead, NH90 Simulator and ORACS/Capability Delivery Andy Evans said they accepted the simulator in Montreal, Canada in February 2020 from CAE Inc, a Canadian manufacturer of simulation technologies.

Not long after that Covid-19 started to impact the world.

“A couple of weeks passed and we realised at that point we were not going to get any CAE staff to come into the country to install it, and the simulator itself was still stuck in Montreal,” he said.

Finally, the simulator was booked on a ship to come to New Zealand, arriving in country weeks later in eight 40 foot containers, but the specialist installation personnel still could not get in.

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Usually it would take about a team of about 15 technicians and engineers to install the simulator, but with limited options, four CAE staff members based at Ohakea and three Royal New Zealand Air Force support personnel worked together to make it happen.

“None of the guys had ever installed a sim before, but they had virtual support from Montreal and it all worked out really, really well,” Mr Evans said.

Some good old fashion Kiwi initative also came into play, with one step of the process seeing eight large fibreglass ‘petals’ aming up the screen dome all needing to come together, which used to be a tedious process.

The team came up with a plan that meant rather than doing it one piece at a time, they would put all eight in place at the same time and use a strop to slowly close it one rachet at a time until it all popped into place.This technique is now an option for other CAE installations.

After the simulator was installed, the team completed testing on it to ensure it met the required criteria, before applying for approval from the Airworthiness Authority so the NZDF could use it to train pilots, even while it was in an unfinished and non-certified state. Approval was received in October 2020.

This was critical to No. 3 Squadron operational training, as pilots could not get overseas freely, so using the simulator was really the only option, Mr Evans said.

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In February 2021 they managed to get CAE specialist staff into New Zealand to do final assessment and tuning on the equipment.

With continuing closures of the New Zealand border, it wasn’t until May 2022 that it was officially qualified.

Mr Evans said a positive aspect to the simulator was that it was great for practising safety aspects of flying, like what to do if there is an engine fire, as you can practise how you would react in real time, pressing the buttons as you would if it was a real event.

“You can fly it all the way to the ground with no engine. That’s what it was bought for, but also how we can use it for mission training, and that’s what Exercise Steel Talon showed. They used it to train scenarios before they went to Waiouru,” he said.