Flight simulator - cockpit

Flight simulator – flying with facts on the ground

Tim Takeoff
2 pictures
4 minutes

Flight simulator? Surely a video game for your home computer? However, professional aviation also took advantage of the benefits of “simulated” flying at a very early stage.

Pilot experience is one of the key pillars of flight safety, although in the early days of flying this was gained using rather hit-and-miss “trial and error” methods. This resulted in errors and, back then, even frequently with loss of life. People became more careful. There needed to be a way of gaining experience without using expensive materials and losing precious human life.

The first equipment was built at the start of the 20th century to simulate flying instead of asking pilots to put their lives on the line. Even although this only involved simple left and right movements, it was nevertheless a good way of training pilots more intensively. As time went on the simulators increasingly began to resemble reality – initially in the military and then in civilian flying as well. Today every aspect of flying is much further advanced, but this development would never have been possible without the use of increasingly sophisticated flight simulators.

Flight simulators – from model aircraft to two-person cockpits

Today even model aircraft pilots practise using their radio control transmitters on their computers before launching their prohibitively expensive “toys” into the air. Amateur pilots familiarise themselves with the different systems and processes on computers to limit real flying hours in the air to the really crucial issues.

And particularly in commercial aviation, it is hard to imagine life without simulators. Trainee pilots initially learn their way around the cockpit using simple posters in what is known as “type rating”: what system is where and what do the switches look like?

Dry training

This is then followed by what is known as dry training in a fixed, immovable “procedure trainer”, which involves pilots using monitors and a simple screen to learn when actions are needed and where everything is located.

Once this important stage has been completed, training then continues in an ultra-modern cockpit simulator. This may be a fixed installation, known as a “Fixed Base Simulator”, which essentially consists of a box housing a 1:1 replica of the cockpit. It is imperative that every display and every switch has the same shape, colour, position and function as in a real aircraft. A state-of-the-art camera projector system projects a 180-degree image of the surroundings onto the cockpit window, the “Visual”.

The “Full Flight Simulator“

Pilots then move into a “Full Flight Simulator” where the “box” is installed on several extremely rapidly-working hydraulic feet – so-called “Motion”. This is entered over a bridge, which is raised when the simulator is in operation.

The software installed in this multi-million euro simulator is fed with data that is precise in every detail and now connects all the systems together. Using both “Motion” and “Visual”, the pilot is confronted with what appears to be an eerily real image of all flight situations.

Once again from the start!

Pilots have to undergo incredibly varied training. Visualising and practising emergency situations in a real aircraft borders on the impossible. And so pilots therefore head with a trainer into a flight simulator to practise these “worst case” scenarios. The trainer sits behind the crew being trained, operates the simulator, explains things and stays in control.

This allows pilots to practise normal and also abnormal flight situations over and over again. Loss of pressure, fire, engine failure, bird strike, collision warning, extreme weather, side winds, aborted take-offs, aborted landings … the list goes on.

It is even possible to generate real smoke which forces the pilot to react. Real oxygen masks, the kind installed in every cockpit, are released down. Pilots work as close to reality as possible, and training continues until all the participants are confident in what they are doing, which explains why the exercise is repeated time and time again.

Passing on experience

When investigating flying accidents, independent crews are deployed in simulators to replicate the situation using real data from the flight records, enabling the causes and possibilities to be explored and correlations drawn. After all, only by doing so is it possible to develop new and improved processes to enable aircraft to continue as the world’s safest mode of transport.

Keen? Fancy a go?

However, this experience comes at a price. An hour of flying in a Full Flight Simulator generally costs between 500 and 1,000 EUR. Serious money but definitely a memorable experience.

Images © SFS

by Tim Takeoff

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