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FLIGHT TRAINING - SIMULATORS REVIEW

March 2008

Category: Business Aircraft – Flight Training

Author: Dave Higdon

Flight training simulators

They’re More
Than Before
Flight Sims to span all budget and equipment levels.

Throughout the nearly 105-year history of powered flight, humans have sought smarter, safer ways to learn the myriad skills required of the modern aviator. As flight technology has advanced, the demands put on flight-training efforts have increased with those new capabilities. And in parallel with the increasing sophistication of aircraft came a gain in the technologies used in flight training to better reflect the flight environment in all its incarnations.

But at the end of it all, all of the technologies in modern aviation serve solely as tools to help human beings maintain control and effect a successful, safe conclusion of the flight.

Equipment failures in complex modes, weather in the breadth and depth of its challenges and the need to think and act in response to unprecedented circumstances, are all elements of the modern training experience.

These adverse circumstance and their various elements can be effectively created in the controlled environment of the Full-Flight Simulator (FFS), eliminating the risk of using real flight in an actual aircraft to train aviators to handle the worst of machinery and Mother Nature. The FFS also offers the benefits of expediency – more exposure to adverse situations per hour than possible in an aircraft.

And by favoring the sim and bypassing the aircraft for most – if not all – advanced training, the pilots spend less money to gain more-effective, more-efficient training. Flight sims are even, if you’ll allow the observation, the greener alternative to burning fossil fuels for training purposes.

Needless to say, simulator technology can no more stand still than aviation technology. Flight-sim makers and flight-training establishments are always in pursuit of better, cheaper, more-effective ways to recreate the sensation of flight. And these days, there appear some significant steps toward improving realism out of the best-performing flying machines to never leave the ground.

Always a moving experience
In its earliest incarnation, aviation was a solitary experience. The machines were single-seat, making the process of learning to fly an on-the-wing experience – neither especially efficient nor particularly safe for the “student.” Two advances in early aviation helped make safer, more-effective training a fighting chance: the advent of two-place machines and the development of dual controls.

Flight-training programs quickly moved from unstructured hands-on experiences to more-formal systems. And about the same time, a rudimentary training device began to show up at flight schools. Hardly a simulator in the sense we know today, the first flight-training machines amounted to nothing more than airplanes mounted on a gimbals or universal joints with cable links to the controls providing response to roll, pitch and yaw.

If nothing else, these training devices showed the prospective pilot the relationship between stick and the elevator and ailerons, and between rudder pedals and the rudder. No moving scenery, no count, no G forces or turbulence or weather; just an airplane inside a hanger and effectively balanced on the head of a pin. This approach began to emerge around 1910. But as today, technology could not stand still and not long after World War I – in which basic simulators taught control inputs and gunnery skills – the first effective motion sim came into use. The Link Trainer of the 1920s was an electrical/mechanical machine which keyed the movement of panel gyros and instruments to control inputs. Links with blacked-out windows eliminated outside visual references to make it an effective trainer and screener for instrument students. Continued refinements and improvements helped the Link gain widespread use through World War II.

Training devices continued to progress and advance to keep up with changes in aviation and finally, in the 1950s, the first three-axis electro/hydraulic machines began to emerge. These trainers attempted to duplicate the cockpit of an airplane and, with a scene projected in front of the windows, show the airplane’s relative motion in response to control movement.

Motion simulation, however, really took off in the 1980s, with the advent of machines with six degrees of movement freedom, allowing the platform to add acceleration forces to the mix.

When coupled with improved, wider-screen visuals – land and sky, essentially and predominately at night – these simulators proved realistic enough for pilots to earn a type rating solely on the basis of simulator training with the newly minted ATP’s first actual flight in the aircraft their first revenue flight.

Today’s simulators reflect the advances in computer processing power and display technologies to deliver a training environment more like the real world than ever dreamed possible back in 1910. The best of today’s machines can display day or night, all forms of weather – complete with suitable sounds – and even show accurate renditions of landscape and architecture.

Advances in motive force and control make the motion aspects more reflective of the real airplane than ever. And future advances hold the promise to move the motion experience far beyond the relatively sedate maneuverings of the typical business jet or airliner and on into the world of unusual attitudes, upset training and even aerobatics and air-to-air combat. Flight training devices have never been a more moving experience; but they will be in the future.

The basic division
Flight Training Device (FTD) or the Full-Flight Simulator: Both help make pilots smarter and reduce the need for actual flight to train effectively. In general, the FTD is a non-moving training machine, though it may use motion video of some size to reflect the effect of control inputs and the condition of the air. The FFS, on the other hand, typically blends actual movement of the training platform and appropriate motion video to impart the full range of flight sensation and aircraft response. FFS platforms are approved by the FAA for different levels of applicability – the type of training that can be logged toward a rating or currency and Level D stands as the highest. Time spent in Level D simulators can be counted toward initial training in an aircraft up to, and including, that type rating mentioned earlier.

Within the two general categories of training machines are a range of aircraft reflected. Some FTDs and FFSs are type specific, with cockpits that accurately reflect the real airplane’s equipment, avionics, flight and engine controls, switches and breakers. Others may be flexible enough to reflect several specific aircraft, while still others may be largely generic, with software settings to reflect the characteristics of a wide range of real aircraft.

Today’s best Sims reflect new aircraft tech
It’s nothing short of stunning how widespread options for motion simulators has become in recent years. New solutions for aircraft not previously offered in FFS format help a wider population of pilots, while system-specific devices help pilots become accustomed to the accoutrements of Technologically Advanced Aircraft. For example, just over a year ago Fidelity Flight Simulation (www.fidelityflight.com) won a contract from Cessna Aircraft Co. to provide a blend of nine flight simulators and system trainers for the planemaker’s single-engine training facility collocated with its production plant in Independence, Kansas.

Aircraft covered by the flight simulators include Cessna’s long-running 182 Skylane, while the systems training covered by portable kiosk cover the Garmin G1000 integrated avionics system.

Fidelity Flight Simulation, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers a wide array of its training systems, including its MOTUS line of FFS packages, its non-motion full-cockpit FTD systems and its G1000 training set. Fidelity’s MOTUS packages feature accurately replicated cockpits equipped with avionics that reflect the customer’s needs. The Fidelity FFSs also include mosaic digital wall displays or wrap-around projection systems, electric motion drives and well-modeled software specific to the aircraft.

The company also offers packages reconfigurable to represent a variety of aircraft with more-generic panels but aircraft specific software.
Aircraft covered by the company’s product line include machines as diverse as the military P-3K Orion, in use by the New Zealand government and the Bell 222, in use by a Japanese customer and the Beechcraft King Air B200 and C90. The MOTUS 622i configurable FFS is in use programmed for a variety of aircraft, including the Embraer EMB-170, a type-specific FFS for the Cessna Citation II and even the highly popular Cirrus line of piston singles, in addition to the aforementioned Skylane. Driving the appeal of Fidelity’s gear is its feature-rich nature and relatively low costs – often millions less than other products with only marginally higher capabilities.

The best of the lot from long-term players
In recent years business aircraft have moved resolutely into the realm of all-digital cockpits with flat-screen LCD displays, digitally controlled avionics and flight-control systems. The major players in flight simulation have worked hard to not only keep up in the physical panel but also to reflect changes in flight-control systems. Electric motion drives appear to be moving into FFS in a dominant way as new platforms are called for, designed and produced.

CAE, one of the major players in flight training and simulation-systems production, answered the challenge of replicating a new jet with an all-new control architecture in a flight sim and won the entitlement business for that jet – Dassault’s Falcon 7X certificated last year.

The Falcon 7X sports the first fly-by-wire control system in a purpose-built business jet. Presenting the characteristics of this new technology in an FFS to represent this business-turbine design moved CAE to employ new electric-drive motion equipment to drive its new Falcon 7X Level D simulator.

But that wasn’t CAE’s only coup in recent times.
The company also landed the job of building the first FFS devices for the world’s largest commercial airliner, the Airbus A380 – again, employing electric-motion hardware to provide the moving experience.

CAE also integrates what’s known as force feedback into its Level D sims. Force feedback is hardware and software that replicate the feeling of air on control surfaces as the pilot student manipulates aircraft controls and is a major aspect of FSI’s new electric motion FFS platforms. Force feedback on controls – both yoke or stick and rudder pedals – considerably adds to the sensation that you’re flying the real thing. Learn more about CAE’s systems and services at www.cae.com.

Meantime, Flight Safety International (FSI) opted for electric drives and force feedback systems in the Mustang FFS built for Cessna, and for the upcoming XLS+, and it’s expected to serve the motion needs of sims for the all-new Columbus large-cabin Citation launched in early February.

Pilots who’ve sampled the XLS+ simulator during its shakedown at FSI’s Tulsa simulation systems factory report experiencing the most-realistic responses in their experience of training in six-degree-of-freedom motion simulators. They report improved smoothness and realism, less noise, and faster resets after a maneuver ends, say, less than optimally. Level D certification from the FAA is expected soon. FSI last year alone added Level D approval for new electric motion simulators replicating the de Havilland Q400 turboprop airliner as well as the EMB-170 and Citation Mustang. More information on Flight Safety’s worldwide service and equipment offerings can be found at www.flightsafety.com.

Illinois-based Frasca International continues to see its business expand in parallel to the growth in business aviation of recent years. As this story was nearing completion Frasca, which turned 50 in January, announced it would unveil a new FTD for the Eurocopter EC-135 with the sim maker’s TruVision Global Visual Display system at HeliExpo in Houston near the end of February.

The TruVision system wraps the cockpit with a display of 200 degrees horizontally and 60 degrees vertical to give the pilot a view that matches the typical visual scan. And even though the Frasca Eurocopter EC-135 FTD is a stationary platform, Frasca employs a force-feedback system in the controls of its training system to more-accurately replicate the forces in the cyclic, collective and tail-rotor pedals during simulated flight.

This advanced FTD also employs new technology like the Blade Element Modeling used to give the training system an accurate reflection of special helicopter conditions such as retreating-blade stall, settling with power and emergency autorotation. Frasca also employs the force-feedback technology and TruVision display systems on its line of FFS systems for business aircraft.

In addition to its helicopter FTDs and FTDs for fixed-wing aircraft, Frasca offers FFS systems to cover business-oriented aircraft as diverse as the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza and Piper Malibu, the Beechcraft King Airs C90, 200, 300 and 350, the Hawker 800 and Cessna Citation and Conquest II models. You can find more information on Frasca’s business at www.frasca.com.

Finally, Mechtronix of Canada takes a distinctively different approach to producing its Level 6-capable FTDs. By employing surplus cockpits and tailoring the panels – avionics to instruments – to match the desired aircraft, Mechtronix can produce highly effective training hardware at a fraction of the cost of custom-built machines. ­The company offers two complementary lines of FTDs, the Ascent Flight Trainer and the Ascent Full Flight Trainer. The latter can be equipped to match the customer’s aircraft and can be qualified up to Level 6 for FTDs. The panels are so representative of the specific aircraft that even the avionics are the same, whether Bendix-King/Honeywell, Collins or Garmin.

Mechtronix Ascent employs computer-generated panels so they can be configured to match a variety of different cockpits, including the all-glass panels of Technically Advanced Aircraft, complete with Primary Flight Displays and Multifunction Displays from Avidyne or Garmin.

The company’s product line spans the range from piston to jet, and turboprops in between and includes motion platform FFS gear for commercial equipment. Learn more about Mechtronix at www.mechtronix.ca.

Get it to go, or not
CAE, Flight Safety and other companies offer either training equipment – FTDs and FFSs – training services, or both. Of course, CAE and FSI both support extensive, global networks of training facilities covering hundreds of aircraft types, all available through the companies’ sales departments.

Some of the manufacturing companies offer own or lease programs for companies that want to maintain in-house control over all, or part of their recurrent and special-mission needs. And some companies employ a combination of training experiences, sending pilots off-site for annual or semi-annual training while providing procedures trainers to help pilots stay sharp while at home. The solutions are as varied as the need.

Best of all, whatever constitutes today’s limits will be small by comparison to what comes in the future, as the cost, availability and realism of such training equipment continues to improve.

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