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You could pretty safely say Orville and Wilbur Wright were aviation’s first teachers – as well as the world’s first pilots. In fact- many of their contemporaries became pilots through the same academy as the Wrights – the School of Hard Knocks- University of Experience.    But no sooner did the airplane evolve enough to carry two seats- dual controls made possible dual instruction. Before ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st May 2007
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Flight Sims:

Going places standing still - making flight training safer and more efficient.

You could pretty safely say Orville and Wilbur Wright were aviation’s first teachers – as well as the world’s first pilots. In fact- many of their contemporaries became pilots through the same academy as the Wrights – the School of Hard Knocks- University of Experience.

   But no sooner did the airplane evolve enough to carry two seats- dual controls made possible dual instruction. Before much longer- aircraft evolved to include dedicated trainers including airplanes like the Curtiss Jenny- which helped give wings to tens of thousands of fledgling aviators – a less-painful education thanks to fewer hard knocks.   

   Before the concept of specialized training aircraft took hold- inventors were already working on machines designed to educate pilots without exposure to the dangers of actual flight – the dawn of the aviation flight simulator.

   Before 1910- devices that used an entire aircraft mounted on a universal joint allowed a student aviator to experience the feel and response of control inputs. Attempts to create a better simulator included electromechanical devices during World War I- machines that used active instruments to reflect the reaction of flight changes- and the earliest example of a truly successful blend of motion and instruments – the 1930s Link Trainer. The Link Trainer evolved and advanced- seeing tremendous use introducing flight cadets to aviation through and after World War II.

   Along the way came various specialty machines- designed to introduce pilots to a specific experience such as instrument flight or celestial navigation- and adding depth to the non-flying flight-training experience.

   And eventually pilots had familiarization trainers to help them learn how things looked and felt in the real cockpit- and procedures trainers to help pilots hone the skills of throwing switches and levers and when to do what for a host of operating practices and flight processes.

   Despite the availability of these various devices- none were considered truly duplicative of the actual flight experience. So the bulk of pilots continued to learn the overwhelming majority of their flying skills the old-fashioned way: in an airplane.

   Whether initial training- advanced skills training such as instrument or multi-engine- or upgrade training to bigger- faster- more-powerful aircraft- you flew in training what you expected to fly afterward. And training accidents were an unwelcome fact of life.

   Finally- in the 1950s came the first motion machines- simulators with blacked out windows or a scene projected outside a mock cockpit that moved about the three axes as hydraulic and electronic systems attempted to mimic the airplane’s motion given the same inputs.   

   Motion sims started a new march in increased capabilities that led to machines capable of duplicating virtually every aspect of flight – from engine start through takeoff- en route navigation through an infinite range of instrument-approach conditions to landing.

   Plus lots of emergencies- crisis and multiple systems failures designed to challenge the pilot- improve their skills and give them exposure to extra-hazardous situations – without exposing them to the actual hazards inherent in learning those same lessons in actual flight.

   Motion technology rapidly progressed to the point that by the 1980s pilots could train to fly a new aircraft completely in a six-axis sim with improved visual renderings. The pilot’s first actual flight in the new plane would come after earning the new rating entirely in the sim.

   Today the technology is even more realistic than ever thanks to advances in display and motion systems – advances that continue to make pilots smarter and safer- safely.   

   Contemporary simulators can even teach today’s pilots the challenges the Wright Brothers faced controlling their original Wright Flyer back in 1903.

   In this aviation article we’ll look at some of today’s available systems- a group of simulators that range from FAA certified flight-training devices with motion to FAA approved full-flight sims employing the latest in motion technology.

What makes a sim
Without plunging headlong into a dissertation explaining the differences between a flight training device and a full-flight simulator- the basic difference is this: FTDs are machines that teach a variety of skills- some of them somewhat specialized to teach systems of procedures- and often the machine is totally stationary with only instruments responding. Some do offer motion video to provide visual motion cues in sync with the airplane’s control inputs.

   Full-flight simulators duplicate a cockpit- provide visual images and cockpit movement about six axes of motion. Together- the combination of moving images and a moving cockpit can produce a simulated flight environment realistic enough to make pilots’ palms sweat- spur their adrenaline- boost respiration- heartbeat and blood pressure as they learn to cope with challenges and crisis.

   Many a FFS is configured to match exactly the flight deck of a specific business jet and to mimic its handling and response.

   Other FFSs can be configured to approximate several different types with panels equipped for a typical aircraft configuration rather than as an exact duplicate. Sims like these typically use different software to mimic the different aircraft types they simulate.

   Regardless- the goal remains the same: to provide pilots with a training experience as close as possible to that available in the real aircraft – but without the expense and risks. And in some cases- scenarios programmed are so dangerous they cannot be safely practiced in the actual plane.

   At the highest plateau of approval- Level D- the simulators can be used for a pilot’s initial training on a specific aircraft- training that can result in a type rating – without having actually flown the real thing. These machines also qualify to provide recurrent training.

   Those sims offer sound- weather- turbulence- and respond as the actual aircraft would to changes in power setting- flap position- control input- trim- autopilot- navigators and communications gear.

   The cockpit generally includes all systems controls for normal and atypical conditions- routine flight to emergencies. The best systems can also display conditions from day to night- clear weather to stormy- duplicate the aircraft’s response to crosswinds and wind shear- even icing and slick runways. The only thing closer to the real thing is- well- the real thing.

   And as you’ll read below- numerous options exist for training in a wide variety of business aircraft- from high-level piston singles and twins to propjets and jets. Here’s a rundown of some of the offerings from some of the top simulation vendors.

In March- Quebec-based CAE Inc. celebrated its 60th year in the simulation business by launching a new breakthrough full-flight simulator (FFS)- the CAE 5000 Series.

   The CAE 5000 series joins the company’s already-wide range of procedure trainers- training systems and full-flight simulators designed to cover a range of aircraft from airliners to VLJs – and about anything in between.

   The company created its addition to the company lineup as a value-oriented FFS designed for in-house and third-party training environments. Featuring the same Tropos 6000 Visual System as the company’s top-of-the-line CAE 7000 series- the CAE 5000 is also characterized by other leading-edge technologies.

   Among those technologies is a full-motion system driven by electric actuators instead of the hydraulic systems that have dominated simulation systems for more than 50 years. Depending on the system- the actuators can have a range of motion of either 42 inches or 60 inches – and the CAE 5000 also employs electric control loading to accurately replicate the range of forces a pilot feels when manipulating aircraft controls.
   The CAE 5000 Series is available in two models: the CAE 5400 Series meets or exceeds FAA and JAA regulatory standards for Level D certification- the highest standard in use for FFS systems while the CAE 5200 Series meets or exceeds the Level B certification.

   The CAE 7000 series’ optional electric-motion system has achieved Level D certification and the company has made upgrades to the design to enhance value with lower maintenance and higher productivity levels.

   CAE also offers systems- such as its Simfinity PC-based training device and Integrated Procedures Trainers for a wide range of business-turbine aircraft. You can read more about CAE’s offerings at www.cae.com FlightSafety International Arguably the largest aviation training company- (FlightSafety International) FSI not only trains pilots- maintenance technicians and flight attendants- it also designs and manufactures its own full-flight simulators.

   The latest Level D FFS to go into service from FSI started working in March- training pilots of the Gulfstream G450 mid-size business jet. The G450 sim follows into service another cutting-edge FFS that went into service in January for training pilots of the Embraer ERJ 170 regional airliner- the foundation for Embraer’s Legacy business jet.

   Both of FSI’s newest sims benefit from technological advances like electrically driven actuation- electrical force feedback- wrap-around state-of-the-art visual displays and panels equipped exactly like those in the real aircraft. Ditto for the new Citation Mustang simulator that recently began initial training use in Wichita- Kansas.

   FSI also is developing what it says is the first electrical-motion sim for business aviation’s first fly-by-wire business jet- the Falcon 7X. This combination should benefit from the existence of control laws and programming developed for the aircraft itself.

   FlightSafety also operates training centers that cover the spectrum of business aircraft brands and types- from the Citation Mustang to the Lear 60- Challenger to Hawker- plus Falcon and Gulfstream- as well as a wide variety of airliners- including models of the 737 used for the BBJ- BBJ2 and BBJ3. 

Information on FSI’s extensive training network is available at www.flightsafety.com

Frasca International- Inc.
Frasca Field in Urbana- Illinois- claims as a hometown business Frasca International- a dynamic maker of FTDs and FFSs for a range of applications.

   At the low end of the spectrum- Frasca manufactures high-value training hardware for single- and twin-engine piston-engine aircraft. The company’s Level B-approved Caravan FFS offers a training solution with appeal to medium and small training environments with a high need for recurrent training for Cessna’s highly successful propjet single.

   For the Beechcraft King Air line- Frasca offers advanced FTDs for the C90 series- the 200- 300 and 350- as well as FFS Level C-approved models for the 200 and 300 series and the Hawker 800 business jet.

   Frasca’s products find themselves popular at universities- training companies and operating companies looking to exert more control and efficiency on their training needs. Western Michigan University- for example- uses a Frasca 747-400 FFS in its airline-training program. And the company also provides systems for training helicopter pilots.

   Frasca’s latest systems use six-axis electric motion drives- electrical control loading- and the company’s own TruVision display hardware to round out its products. Recently- Frasca began building systems that employ Garmin International’s new G1000 integrated aircraft avionics/flight display system.

   And custom orders are always welcome if you don’t see what you need on the company’s product list. Frasca can best be assessed for suitability for your needs by first visiting www.frasca.com

Mechtronix Systems
Mechtronix is a multifaceted company with its roots in aviation simulation systems- and today offers a wide range of business- and commercial-aircraft training systems as FTDs- many of them approved at Level 5 or better- at prices as competitive as you’ll find - the root of its business philosophy since its founding 20 years ago this year.

   This company- based in St. Laurent- Quebec- takes a different approach to building its sims- using hardware recycled from actual aircraft as the basis for many of its more advanced models.

   The company’s Ascent Full Flight Trainer can be tailored to the customer’s specific aircraft and used as a Level 6 FTD. 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 models can also be configured as Technically Advanced Aircraft- with full glass panels- PFDs and MFDs inclusive- Avidyne or Garmin.

   The company’s product line spans the range from piston to jet- and turboprops in between. More than 100 airlines- training centers and universities employ Mechtronix flight-training equipment around the world. Learn more about the company’s offerings at its website www.mechtronix.ca

Buying versus renting
Many operators find it most cost-effective and convenient to contract for their training needs with companies such as FlightSafety or CAE SimuFlite. Those companies have depth- expertise and equipment to meet the needs of the vast majority of business aircraft operators.

   But using such vendors does involve the expense and pilot down time that comes with flying them off to the training company’s facility- covering wages- travel- rooms and meals for the time the pilots- mechanics or flight attendants are away from their home base.

   Other companies see savings and flexibility gains by acquiring the equipment they need to handle most of their training requirements in-house. This way- the pilots have more flexibility in their training routine – and they’re home each night- dining with their families instead of eating and drinking part of their per diem they don’t have to spend on their accommodations and travel.

   As with any investment decision- the best way to gauge whether your operation would benefit from some degree of in-house training starts with an assessment. Weigh the true and non-cash costs against the number of training days needed in a year using the current training mechanisms.

   Then shop for equipment that would meet all or part of your training needs- price it and gauge those costs against what you’d save from eliminating the costs of sending the candidates off for training. That should get you started toward making an informed decision.

   Whether in-house or through another party- using today’s sims is a faster- more-complete and safer path to proficiency than any business aircraft. Imagine how much easier the Wright Brothers’ work would have been with access to a full-flight simulator of the first Wright Flyer.

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