An Airborne Education

12 January 2011 (Last Updated January 12th, 2011 18:30)

Sending trainee pilots into the sky in multi-million dollar equipment can be both expensive and dangerous. Pilot training is therefore often accomplished safely on the ground. Liam Stoker investigates the latest technology in the field of flight simulation training.

With both commercial and military aircraft costs running up into the hundreds of millions of dollars, it is vitally important that potential pilots are fully trained to handle a wide variety of situations and scenarios before being entrusted with aircraft and, in commercial circumstances, the lives of passengers.

In order to safeguard this as well as a force’s investment, flight simulation training continues to play a crucial part in air force readiness. Simulator technology continues to advance and produce highly realistic training environments for trainee pilots.

An introduction to combat

Trainee US Air Force pilots who are new to the programme now have the ability to undergo an introduction to flight control without leaving the ground. Employed by USAF and manufactured by Viper-Pits, the Hi-Fidelity F-16 Avionics Training System creates a replica of the F-16 cockpit, equipped with realistic replica parts including ACESII ejection seat and Cougar HOTAS stick and throttle.

Drills are portrayed on a 50in plasma front display, and trainee pilots can interact with training modules using the stick, throttle and interactive 3D interface panels, designed to replicate LCD displays seen in actual combat aircraft.

The cockpits can be configured to F-16, F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants and installed into any facility with relative ease.

Crystal-clear graphics

“The CAE 7000 is used to train pilots of A330, A340, A380 variants as well as Boeing’s 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft.”

Commercial pilots also have the ability to train largely in simulators capable of recreating specific scenarios that could be encountered in flight. The CAE 7000 Full Flight Simulator is one of the most widely recognised simulators available and is largely used within pilot training centres across the globe.

Developed for modern wide body aircraft, the CAE 7000 is used to train pilots of A330, A340, A380 variants as well as Boeing’s 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft and is also capable of simulating regional jets including the Embraer 190. The CAE 7000 series simulator used in the training of 787 pilots has been configured with General Electric GEnx-1B engines, with the cabin custom-built to replicate those onboard actual 787 aircraft.

The simulator utilises Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) projectors and the company’s CAE Tropos-6000 series of graphics processing units to create life-like scenarios. 3D clouds, storm fronts and snow among other weather conditions can be generated and over 250 different airport scenes can be rendered at a 60Hz refresh rate.

The CAE Tropos is the only image generator with the ability to generate realistic runway lighting with occlusion, allowing the simulator to achieve level D certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

True electric motion for added realism

One of the defining features of the CAE 7000 is the True Electric Motion System, which uses electrical actuators to simulate movement instead of conventional hydraulic pumps. The 7000 series is the first full flight simulator with electric motion to receive level D certification. This switch to electric motion reduced the need for maintenance and operating costs, given the reduction in required power.

This electric motion system, developed by CAE in partnership with Moog FCS, provides pilot training cues that are far more accurate and authentic than previous systems, increasing the authenticity of the simulator. The system utilises CAE’s true-fidelity motion-cueing software in order to maximise responsiveness.

Other benefits for the electric motion system are its increased environmental friendliness when compared to hydraulic and hybrid electric-hydraulic alternatives.

Breaking hexapod movement limitations

The Desdemona simulator can lay a claim to be the most technologically advanced simulator currently in action. Originally designed for spatial disorientation training of Royal Netherlands Air Force pilots and advanced military flight simulation, the simulator has since been used for various research and development purposes, including research into human movement perception. The cabin boasts a modular layout that has been used to recreate the cockpit of the F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon for pilot training purposes.

“The Desdemona simulator boasts a modular layout that has been used to recreate the cockpit of the F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon.”

The Desdemona expands on the movement limitations imposed on conventional simulators by their hexapod design, which creates a limited motion envelope and renders simulation of complex aerial movements virtually impossible. Whereas the standard motion envelope may suffice for conventional, commercial flight simulation, the unpredictable nature of military aircraft manoeuvres cannot be represented.

By combining the possibilities of the hexapod and human centrifuge using a fully gimballed system capable of rotation around any conceivable axis, the Desdemona can produce a completely unique motion envelope capable of producing advanced flight patterns. Another benefit is the use of motion-cueing algorithms, entitled Spherical Washout, based on TNO’s database of human motion perception that allows the most advanced motion envelope presently available.

Replicating G-force

This motion cueing supports outside views with precise movements in order to generate the desired pilot behaviour, vital for specific training objectives and aspects, while also proving effective in the prevention of simulator sickness. Being capable of replicating the forces felt by pilots during actual flights is an important step, and one that any future flight simulator must overcome in order to produce a truly authentic simulated flight experience.

The Desdemona simulator allows just two metres of vertical movement, but combines this with movement of eight metres along a horizontal sledge that can also spin, allowing centrifugation to generate constant G-forces up to a maximum of up to 3G for ultra-realistic flight simulation.