by Staff Writers
Munich, Germany (SPX) Jan 03, 2017
Missions at sea, in mountainous regions or close to skyscrapers are extremely risky for helicopter pilots. The turbulent air flows near oil rigs, ships, cliffs and tall buildings can throw a helicopter off balance and cause a crash. To provide pilots with optimal preparation for these challenging conditions, engineers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are developing new simulation software.
Providing helicopter pilots with the best possible preparation for extreme situations: That is the goal of the new simulation software being developed by researchers working at TUM's Chair of Helicopter Technology. For the first time, real-time computational analysis will be implemented for both fluid mechanics and flight dynamics.
"Until now, flight simulators have not adequately reflected the reality of flying in close proximity to large objects," says Dr. Juergen Rauleder. "The problem is that, when it comes to wind conditions and the response of the helicopter, existing programs follow a rigid pattern. That means that local variations and changing conditions are not taken into account - unless the entire flow environment is known in advance."
But it is the unforeseen air flows that can be the most treacherous: For example, a moving ship causes air turbulence and sudden local shifts in wind speed known by specialists as "ship airwake flow". It changes continually through wave action and fluctuating inflow conditions. In addition, turbulence occurs near the deck, the bridge and other ship structures.
As a helicopter approaches the ship, there is interference between these air currents and the flow produced by the rotors. Conditions near a mountain slope or next to high buildings are similarly complicated. In all of these cases, the helicopter's flight characteristics are influenced by complex and overlapping aerodynamic effects.
Stress for pilots and machines
"Conventional training is expensive, risky and very stressful for student pilots. It also imposes heavy demands on the aircraft: Because the first attempts usually result in rather hard landings, the dampers and landing gear take quite a beating," explains Rauleder.
Flow fields and flight dynamics all in one
"We only have to enter the external conditions such as topography, global wind speeds and the helicopter type. During the simulation, our algorithms use that data to continuously compute the interacting flow field at the virtual helicopter's current location," the engineer explains.
The new program also lets pilots instantly "feel" the impact of the local air flows on the helicopter. This allows them to try out the effects of their control movements in a stress-free situation: perfect preparation for a soft landing that is easy on the aircraft.
The potential of this method has attracted international interest, including from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which is contributing funding under the auspices of its basic research program.
The ultimate test for flight simulators: reality
The specialists in Washington have measured air flows on a ship using hundreds of sensors. To check the flight dynamics, the TUM team will also be using in-flight data collected by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
"The validation of the models and testing of our simulation environment by experienced pilots in our research simulator is enormously important for our developments," says Rauleder.
"That's the only way we can ensure that the simulator training provides student pilots with optimal preparation for tough missions."
J. Bludau, J. Rauleder, L. Friedmann, M. Hajek: Real-Time Simulation of Rotor Inflow using a Coupled Flight Dynamics and Fluid Dynamics Simulation, Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress 2016, Braunschweig
Technical University of Munich
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