February 21, 2019

Fighting Fire with Agility: How TRU Conquered the Impossible with the CL-415 Development Program

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TRU is increasingly becoming known for its never-been-done, one-of-a-kind programs. Staying true to its mantra of “making the impossible, possible,” there’s one development program that created new boundaries, broke them and disrupted a training standard.

The problem was unmistakable, and the goal was simple. Recent wildfires had swept through Europe and the western United States, creating a global need for a simulator for a key firefighting waterbomber aircraft that heretofore had none. TRU stepped in with a goal to provide CL-415 pilots with a safer and realistic training experience. 

TRU has proven itself in challenging development programs once before through the amphibious Twin Otter full flight simulator that it provided in 2018 to Viking –but this program’s challenges were distinctly bigger, bolder— and beyond any technology that existed. 

They had to answer many questions that had never been asked in the history of aviation simulation and training; Chief among them was: “How do you replicate one of the most complex flying experiences in the world?”

So, TRU’s team of experts in mechanical engineering, hardware and software development, and aerodynamics set out together to tackle this waterbomber development program and to successfully conquer air, water and fire. 

A Sea of Challenges

“What made the CL-415 program so challenging were the hundreds upon hundreds of environmental factors as well as shifting aerodynamics of a waterbombing aircraft, leading to a web of possibilities—and because this device was the first of its kind in the world, much of the visuals and software were built custom to the project,” said Thom Allen, TRU’s Vice President of Technology and Innovation.

Take for example a land aircraft—such as an A320—sitting on a runway or taxiing at low speeds. The aircraft’s ground handling computer model will dominate and stabilize the dynamics of the aircraft, with only a minimally greater effect to that same A320 sitting on a runway with strong winds. 

However, for the CL-415, things get much more complicated considering the added complexities of floating on water—requiring understanding of a full 360-degree aerodynamic model, including crosswinds and tail winds, with possibly inverted flow over flight control surfaces, weather-cocking and sailing movements. Even the slightest sensitivities mean big differences on aircraft behavior—and these must be replicated at 100% realism for high fidelity training. Remember, the CL-415’s interactions with water don’t end with simply sitting still on the water. This aircraft is still capable of scooping water, dropping water, landing on water, and taking off from water. Hundreds of complexities had to be translated to the simulator experience—from the roughness of the sea while taxiing on it to the added pitch the pilot experiences when releasing water from the fuselage. In an A320, the only interaction with water is to avoid it. 

Where There is Smoke… 

Firefighting is what makes the CL-415 incredibly unique. With no previous simulator in history, that meant TRU teams were faced with a blank page in creation of fire visuals. 

It all started with understanding the subtle differences in shapes, colors, sizes and densities of fire and smoke. TRU engineers worked closely with the customer and test pilots to get this basic data from their extensive experience. It was from there that fire came to life. 

“Since this was a custom visual system used only on this simulator, there was no tool available to help us easily visualize and build the fires. We had to develop a software in-house so that we could place the blocks and see where each piece would go. This software then allowed us to click and drag the fire pieces and visualize what the fire would look like—much like building with Legos,” said Robert Liegl, Aerodynamicist. 

The result was customizable and true-to-life fire scenarios at the click of a button on the instructor’s station.

The Complexities of Reality

Beyond the visual environment, the auditory experience of a real CL-415 in flight had to be replicated—down to the exact decibel level. In fact, the CL415’s 75+ decibel level is higher than any commercial aircraft. 

“We had to review most of our systems and redesign them accordingly. Many of the parts had to be made stronger to withstand the secondary vibrations created by the primary vibrations. We added an upgraded sound system to increase the volume and had to isolate it from the exterior of the simulated area,” said Christian Michelin, Mechanical Designer. 

Another unique challenge of the CL-415 program is that the aircraft is no longer in production, so it was impossible to use real aircraft parts—a standard practice for TRU simulators. When it came down to building the CL-415 cockpit, Christian explains how no corners were cut when redesigning the parts from scratch. 

“Precise look and feel of the cockpit to a pilot in training is vital for the realism factor. TRU has in-house production capability to produce most aircraft cockpit parts. For the parts that require a specialized process, we cultivated a great relation with our partners to create new designs quickly and make changes whenever test pilots found discrepancies.

Cleared for Take-Off

In September 2018, TRU provided the world’s first-ever CL-415 Level D full flight simulator to Ansett Aviation’s training center in Milan, Italy—ready to make a significant and positive impact on preparing brave men and women for their next aerial firefighting mission.

Robert Graham, a CL-415 training pilot who has been flying the CL-215/CL-415 for nearly 30 years, was a key test pilot on TRU’s development program and worked closely with their engineering team.  “The first time I flew the completed simulator I was extremely impressed because we can now do everything in the simulator that we can do in the aircraft. Pilots who have never stepped into a CL-415 can leave the training program ready to go to work,” says Robert.

“This simulator will enhance safety to a point that’s never before been achieved.”


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