Training both military and civilian helicopter pilots, the Helicopter Academy for Training by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF) facility in Bangalore is the only one of its kind in India. Traditionally, the Indian military has not been an early adopter of simulator technology. Early devices fell short of the fidelity required for positive transfer of training, thus eroding the military’s interest in such devices.

However, that changed with the setting up of HATSOFF. Formal training commenced with a Bell 412 cockpit in 2010 and, soon after, cockpit modules for the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Dauphin were added.

Established through a JV between CAE and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 2008, the Level D simulator offers basic type rating, recurrent training, instrument flying and customised training packages to civil and military customers from India and abroad.

Neti Krishna, a retired Indian Air Force (IAF) wing commander and the CEO of HATSOFF since March 2014, told Shephard, ‘Our primary focus area for the future will be military training.’

That makes sense, as the growth of civil helicopters in India has been less than impressive. About 300 civil helicopters of myriad types are pending, while HAL continues to roll out tens of ALHs every year. The military thus remains the key driver for the foreseeable future.

Krishna is excited about the increasing focus of the Indian military on simulator training. Some rotary projects even have requirements for simulators built into them. When those cases reach fruition, HATSOFF will be ideally placed to collaborate or offer build, operate, maintain, transfer services, Krishna feels.

HATSOFF has a current annual throughput of 500-600 trainees, leaving about 15% slack that Krishna believes will be absorbed as the IAF and Army Aviation scale up. Its biggest customer is the IAF, followed by the army, navy and coast guard.

Since HATSOFF is based on a roll on/roll off model, the critical mass of about 4,800 yearly training hours required to sustain the facility is achieved between three cockpit models, keeping the ‘mothership’ (motion platform) in safe waters, Krishna said.

The cockpits when decoupled back up as flight training devices, thereby adding value and revenue. They have spare capacity for two more cockpits.

An advanced version of the ALH Mk3 is planned to be added by early 2020, offering full-spectrum rotary training to Indian military customers.

HATSOFF instructors are drawn from civil-military backgrounds with an average experience level of 15,000 flight hours.