Merlin Simulation Inc., a high-end flight training device industry player for two decades, introduced a helicopter-specific Schweizer/Sikorsky S300C simulator as the first of its FAA-approved Pro Series line of flight training devices that will pave the way for fixed-wing models. Next up will be a pair of simulators tailored for Robinson R22 and R44 helicopters before the company ramps up for Cessna 172s, Pipers, and other models.
Although it might not be a household name, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company is no stranger to the simulator market. Merlin made its mark with military, corporate, drone, and air traffic control simulators. Some of its clients include divisions of the U.S. Air Force as well as the air defense forces of other countries.
The Pro Series helicopter-specific flight training devices are paving the way for additional advanced aircraft training devices (AATD) that Zimmerman said can save pilots money as they enter the world of aviation. He said the Pro Series lineup will eventually encompass more airplanes than helicopters.
Merlin’s certificated training devices use advanced technology, superior visual imagery, and true flight modeling “previously only found in high-end training devices” such as the Level D simulators that are so advanced they allow air transport pilots to be certificated on another aircraft using just simulator time, Zimmerman said.
AATDs are valuable teaching tools, Zimmerman explained, because primary pilots can log five hours of flight, and pilots adding an instrument rating can log up to 20 hours, not only saving money, but also making students better prepared for emergencies. “You can teach engine procedures, or a stall, or any kind of maneuver in a sim and then go out and do it in an actual aircraft.” Instructors can fail instruments on students, simulate engine malfunctions, or trigger warning lights “and constantly drill into their head that they’re always watching and always paying attention to the aircraft.”
During his research into the cockpits of a variety of aircraft, Zimmerman said that his role as an engineer also has crossed into a world familiar to student pilots. He pointed out that paying attention to the details can have dramatic results.
For example, pilots in the Robinson R22 simulator prototype were having difficulty controlling the aircraft because of its touchy cyclic flight controls. “You think where you want to go, as opposed to flying where you want to go,” Zimmerman said. Engineers familiar with flying an actual Robinson R22 determined that the pilot’s seat was placed one inch too low, and that led to overcorrecting the cyclic response.
To tackle small issues before they become major problems, the company routinely deploys pilots to compare the flying qualities of other aircraft they support. Zimmerman said that Merlin is one of the few flight training device manufacturing companies that strives to do flight testing on actual aircraft. He added that a simulator company shouldn’t have “negative transfer of experience” that could lead to a dangerous situation in the real world.
The Robinson flight training devices are on schedule to be certificated in the near future, and fixed-wing models will follow.
“Our Pro Series training devices are really cockpit-specific,” Zimmerman said. “They can pack a lot of punch.”