Flight simulator

From Academic Kids

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Interior Cockpit of a modern Flight Simulator

A flight simulator is a system that tries to replicate, or simulate, the experience of flying an airplane as closely and realistically as possible. The different types of flight simulator range from video games up to fullsize cockpit replicas mounted on hydraulic (or electromechanical) actuators, controlled by state of the art computer technology.

Flight simulators are extensively used by the aviation industry and the military for pilot training, disaster simulation and aircraft development.



Because powered flight is hazardous to attempt untrained, from the earliest days various schemes were used to enable new pilots to get the feel of the controls without actually being airborne. For instance, the Sanders Teacher was a complete aircraft mounted on a universal joint and facing into the wind, able to rotate and tilt freely. Another early flight simulator of about 1910 was built using a section of a barrel mounted on a frame.

A number of electro-mechanical devices were tried during World War I and thereafter. The best-known was the Link Trainer, which in 1930 just simulated mechanical motions, but was later enhanced to include instruments and was used by a number of countries during World War II and after.

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Link trainer

The Celestial Navigation Trainer of 1941 was a massive structure 45 ft high and capable of accommodating an entire bomber crew learning how to fly night missions. In the 1940s, analog computers were used to solve the equations of flight, resulting in the first electronic simulators.

In 1948, Curtiss-Wright delivered a trainer for the Stratocruiser to Pan American, the first complete simulator owned by an airline. Although there was no motion modelling or visual display, the entire cockpit and instruments worked, and crews found it very effective. Full motion systems came in starting in the late 1950s. The early full motion systems often simulated ground terrain using an actual model of the terrain, and "flying" a camera over it to mimic the position of the aircraft. The resulting pictures were relayed to the pilots on TV monitors. Naturally rather limited areas of the ground were able to be simulated in this manner, usually just the area around an airport. A similar system was used by the military to simulate bombing raids, etc. The use of digital computers for flight simulation began in the 1960s.

Modern simulators

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A FAA certified fixed Simulator

Today there are various categories of flight simulators used for pilot training. These categories range from seemingly simply “system trainers” to 6 degree of freedom motion simulators. There are various minor variations within each of these categories, but they all essentially provide the equivalent training capabilities.

Contrary to popular belief flight simulators are not used to train pilots how to fly aircraft. Today’s modern simulators are used by commercial airlines and the military alike, to familiarize flight crews in normal and emergency operating procedures. Using simulators pilots are able to train for situations that they are unable to safely do in actual aircraft. These situations include loss of flight surfaces, and complete power loss. Today’s aircraft are complex computer-based devices and in order to operate them efficiently, pilots must possess a high level of technical as well as piloting skills.

Most regulatory governmental bodies such as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognize each category of simulators. These regulatory bodies are also required to certify the performance of these devices. A simulator certified by the FAA is the only type of device upon which commercial airline pilots can be trained in the US in order for them to earn or retain their licenses. In order for a simulator to be certified, it must be able to demonstrate that its performance matches that of the airplane that is being simulated. The testing requirements are detailed in test guides referred to as an Approval Test Guide (ATG) or Qualification Test Guide (QTG).

System trainers are used to teach pilots how to properly operate various aircraft systems. They are not normally used for “flight training” or “emergency procedure” training. Once pilots become familiar with system operations, they will transition to cockpit procedures trainers or CPTs. These fixed base devices are exact replicas of the aircraft and are used to train flight crews in normal and emergency procedures. They are also duplicate the atmospheric environment in which the aircraft will fly – simulating wind, temperature and turbulence. CPTs will also simulate the various sounds produced by the aircraft such as engine, landing gear and other sounds. Some may also be equipped with visual systems. However, they are not equipped with systems that simulate aircraft motions.

A full motion simulator (also known as a full-flight simulator)will duplicate all aspects of the aircraft and its environment including basic motions of the aircraft. These type of simulators can generate momentary jolts so that the occupants in the simulator must wear seat belts as they do in the real aircraft. An average full motion level D simulator built by Flight Safety International, can cost $16 million.

Most simulators are also equipped with facilities that are used by instructors. These are referred to Instructor Operator Stations (IOS). At the IOS, an instructor can quickly create any normal and abnormal condition in the simulated aircraft or in the simulated external aircraft environment. This can range from engine fires, malfunctioning landing gear, electrical faults, storms, lightning, oncoming aircraft, slippery runways, navigational system failures and countless other problems which the crew need to be familiar with and act upon.

Many newer simulators allow the instructor to control the simulator from the cockpit, either from a console next to the co-pilots seat, or by adjusting certain instruments in particular ways (for example entering a specific transponder code), allowing them to program basic scenarios using the cockpit interface. This allows the training a single pilot in aircraft that require a crew of two, allowing the instructor to serve as the second pilot.

Flight simulators are an essential element in individual pilot as well as flight crew training. They save time, money and lives.

Flight simulators at home

Crude flight simulators were among the first types of programs to be developed for early personal computers. Bruce Artwick's Sublogic simulators were well-known for the functionality they managed to get onto 8-bit machines.

A popular type of flight simulator is a combat flight simulator, including on-line sites such as Aces High and Fighter Ace.

In the early 2000s, even home entertainment flight simulators become so realistic that after the tragedies of September the 11th 2001, some journalists and experts speculated that the hijackers might have gained enough knowledge to steer a passenger airliner from packages such as Microsoft Flight Simulator.

It should be pointed out that the advent of flight simulators as home video game entertainment has prompted many users to become "airplane designers" for these systems. As such, they may create both military or commercial airline airplanes, and they may even use names of real life airlines, as long as they don't make profits out of their designs. Many other home flight simulator users create their personal, virtual version of their favorite real world airline, and so virtual airlines such as Virtual Delta, Mexicana Virtual, Virtual Aeroflot, Viasa Virtual and so on can be found online.

Popular simulators for home computers include:

Space flight simulators

Main article: Space flight simulator

As the space is a natural extension of airspace, space flight simulators may be treated as an extension of flight simulators' genre. There is a considerable interdependence between those two kinds of simulators, as some flight simulators feature spacecraft as an extension and the other hand some space flight simulators may feature a pretty realistic atmospheric flight simulation engine.

Popular space flight simulators for home computers include:

See also


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