Future British monarch to train on Broken Arrow-built simulator

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Partly personal, but this news is reason for a bit of local pride, a bit of reflection on the reach of products built right here in northeastern Oklahoma.

Today, Prince William of Wales began an 18-month search-and-rescue training course at the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) at RAF Shawbury, in Shropshire near England's border with Wales. According to the Times, Flight Lieutenant Wales, as he is known in the Royal Air Force, "will train on Squirrels and Griffins before moving on to the workhorse of the SAR, the Sea King."

Squirrel, Griffin, and Sea King are RAF nicknames for military variants of the Eurocopter AS3 50BB, the Bell 412EP, and Sikorsky S-61, respectively.

FlightSafety Simulation Systems, based in Broken Arrow, builds helicopter simulators as well as training devices for fixed-wing aircraft, and over the years they've done a number of simulators for Bell 412 variants, most of which are based at FlightSafety's Fort Worth Learning Center, just across the airfield from Bell Helicopter Textron's Hurst, Texas, factory.

In the late '90s, FlightSafety Simulation also built a Bell 412-based simulator to be used at DHFS to train Griffin pilots. In 1999, I was assigned to rewrite the communications link software that allowed the main simulation computer to send commands to the image generator that produced the out-the-window picture seen by the pilots in training. A brand new Evans and Sutherland Harmony image generator didn't have all the bugs worked out, so they were going to try an older-generation model. The older model used a different communication method than the new one, so I had to change the main simulation computer software so it could talk to the older image generator. (It used raw Ethernet packets over a point-to-point crossover cable.)

So in late May of '99, I traveled to RAF Shawbury, and spent hours in the very loud and very air conditioned computer room of DHFS's new simulator building. Mornings I marked up source code listings at the Albrighton Hall hotel over a full English fry-up or in my room, a much more comfortable place to work. I finished my work in five days and had a spare day to drive through the countryside of north Wales, take a ride on the narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway, and pay a visit to Portmeirion, setting for the '60s spy series The Prisoner. Earlier in the week, I'd managed a quick evening visit to Hay-on-Wye, the famed town of second-hand bookshops; most other evenings I made it in to historic Shrewsbury for a meal and a walk around. Our visual software expert, Jim Narrin, arrived a couple of days before my departure to modify the software that formatted commands to the image generator to work with the older generation E&S.

Within a couple of years, the Harmony IG was deemed ready for use and the older IG was replaced. The IG communication code I developed was no longer needed (although there's still some general purpose code on the simulator that I wrote).

But I was just one of dozens of Tulsa-area engineers and technicians who had a part in bringing that simulator to life (not to mention all the support staff in human resources, accounting, travel, program management, etc.). This simulator brought millions of dollars to the Tulsa area in payroll for high-tech jobs.

And now this Broken Arrow-built simulator will almost certainly be part of the search-and-rescue training program for the future ruler of the United Kingdom. I'm not a royalty enthusiast, but I was still somewhat excited and proud to come across this bit of news today.

Here's a description of the DHFS course from the website of FB Heliservices, Ltd., the contractor that runs the program, and here's a bit about the simulator itself. More here at the BBC News website.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 12, 2009 10:10 PM.

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