In a quiet, leafy lane running through India’s aerospace R&D hub at Bengaluru sits a state-of-art training facility called HATSOFF. The silence in that area is only broken by the occasional buzz of military helicopters under test & evaluation that pass overhead. It is an ideal setting for training.
The acronym is as unique and relevant as the facility itself. Helicopter Academy for Training by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF) is the only one of its kind in the Indian subcontinent. Established through a JV in 2008 between Canadian simulation company CAE and leading Indian aerospace manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Level D simulator leverages the technology & expertise of both partners to offer basic type rating, recurrent training, instrument flying and customized training packages to civil and military customers from India and abroad.
Traditionally, the Indian military has not been an early adopter of simulator technology. A rudimentary Flight and Tactical Simulator (FATS) came with the induction of naval Seaking helicopters in the early 80s (upgraded in 2013). A few other fighter simulators were utilized for Sea Harrier, Mirage 2000 etc. These fell short of the fidelity required for positive transfer of training, thus eroding military’s interest in such devices. That changed with the setting up of HATSOFF. Formal training commenced with the induction of a Bell 412 cockpit in 2010. Soon after, cockpit modules for the ‘Dhruv’ Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Dauphin were added.
Wg Cdr Neti Krishna (Retd), CEO of HATSOFF since Mar 2014, has been associated with HATSOFF from its early days. He is himself an IAF veteran and test pilot with over 6000 hours under his belt. “Our primary focus area for the future will be military training”, he states.
That makes sense as growth of civil helicopters in India has been less than impressive. About 300 civil helicopters of myriad types are thinly spread over a country of 1.4 billion. Big ticket military helicopter programmes such as the NUH, NMRH, IMRH etc. are on the anvil while HAL continues to roll out tens of ALH every year. Military thus remains the key driver for the foreseeable future.
Krishna is excited about the increasing focus of Indian military towards simulator training. Some of the rotary projects even have requirement for simulators built into them. When those cases reach fruition, HATSOFF will be ideally placed to collaborate or offer BOMT (build, operate, maintain, transfer) services, Krishna feels.
HATSOFF has a current annual throughput of between 500-600 trainees, leaving about 15% slack that Krishna feels will be absorbed as the IAF and Army Aviation scale up. Their biggest customer is IAF followed by the army, navy and coast guard. Bell 412 and Dauphin simulators meet the requirement of civilian customers from India. Crew from Sri Lanka, Middle East, Australia and Japan have been trained in the past.
Since HATSOFF is based on a RO-RO model the critical mass of about 4800 yearly training hours required to sustain the facility is achieved between three cockpit models, keeping the ‘mothership’ (motion platform) in safe waters, Krishna says. 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. This will offer full spectrum rotary training to Indian military customers who are heavily invested in the ALH program.
Krishna is understandably proud of his instructors, drawn from civil-military background with a daunting average experience level of 15000 hours. “They have extensive operational exposure stretching from sea level and deserts to super high altitude. Our modern classrooms, CBT, briefing/debriefing facilities and in-house accommodation meet the exacting requirements of military customers at very competitive rates”, Krishna signs off with confidence.
Having used the services of HATSOFF both as a former military pilot and now civil aviator, this author cannot help but agree. The next time you stop by in Bengaluru, make time for HATSOFF – the one-stop-shop for rotary training in India!
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All pictures courtesy HATSOFF Helicopter Training Pvt Ltd and used with their permission.
An extract of this story first appeared in Shephard Media’s (UK) coverage of Asia Defence Expo & Conference Series 2019, Singapore. Read it here.