Jonathan Boon, ACT Business Unit Manager at Stirling Dynamics, explains how the company responded to the challenge of developing a bespoke set of CH-53K simulator controls.
Having successfully produced several bespoke active control simulator cockpit designs ranging from the UH60, CH47 and the F-35, we were approached by our customer to create a set of replica cockpit controls for the CH-53K. These controls needed to match the flightworthy units in every way, including electronic linking, force feedback, dynamics and position specification, including the computer control of the infinitely variable range of soft-stops, ramp forces and control shakers that will be commanded from one of the most advanced flight control systems.
The Sikorsky CH-53K is unique to its predecessor, the CH-53E, as it features fly-by-wire technology with active flight controls, continuing a technological trend for heavy-lift rotary-wing aircraft. This aircraft is one of the few aircraft programmes worldwide that has adopted fly-by-wire active control technology and in addition to being active, the controls feature side arm controllers that replace the more conventional central cyclic controls. The deviation from the conventional helicopter controls demonstrates the advanced thinking that Sikorsky has applied to this development. Test pilot, John Rucci, eloquently described flying the CH-53K in a recent Defense.info article and shared his favourable views on the aircraft’s active controls and cockpit configuration.
For simulation purposes, it’s not just about copying the flightworthy controls. The CH-53K aircraft controls have been designed to include multiple redundancies to ensure the safety of flight, including both its mechanical and software systems. The challenge with simulator equipment is to provide the identical feel and capability of the flightworthy units but without the overhead, driven by flight safety, and of course, cost. Controls to support simulators at this high-level demand a collaborative development team that includes the customer, to help define the requirements for the new product. At Stirling Dynamics, we adopt a tried and tested systems engineering approach to our designs and this approach was crucial to this particular project, fundamentally due to the complexities involved covering mechanical, electrical and software design. The main challenges faced were achieving the high pivot point from which the controls rotate while ensuring the mechanical system remained compact. The design process involved complex system models and these models tested the design to ensure that the required performance was met.
The main challenges faced were achieving the high pivot point from which the controls rotate while ensuring the mechanical system remained compact. The design process involved complex system models and these models tested the design to ensure that the required performance was met.
The Final Product
Our existing simulator product range, which is fully active, compact and linkable, without mechanical linkages, was the perfect starting point for developing a bespoke cockpit set for a CH-53K simulator. Additionally, the configuration of the aircraft’s sidearm controls, meant that other technologies on the market would struggle to provide a “drop-in” solution that provided all the features and fidelity required to replicate this aircraft. There is currently nothing else on the market like the CH-53K units we have developed with our customer, they are unique and have been designed to replicate, in every way, the form and feel characteristics of the real aircraft controls.
The final CH-53K controls featured all the benefits of our bespoke active control products: Linked tandem controls as standard, user-configurable to match the aircraft equipment characteristics, interface compatible with flightworthy grips and low through-life costs. The cockpit sets were delivered to the customer in August 2019 and our engineering team supported the integration of the controls on the customer onsite, training and to assist with first time setup. Currently, the controls are performing reliably in the field and providing carefree operation.
Stirling Dynamics are world-leaders in active control technology. For more information on how Stirling can support your simulator development programme visit: https://www.stirling-dynamics.com/products/active-controls/