11/3/2010 1:20 PM
There are those who will tell you (on flashy web sites and in glossy sales brochures) that a flight simulator without a realistic hardware-based cockpit is no flight simulator at all.
It’s not surprising, really. The first Link Trainer (the first patented true instrument flight simulator) had both a cockpit you could climb into and motion along three axis: pitch, roll, and yaw.
By the 1960s, jacks allowing six degrees of freedom appeared on simulators, providing pitch, roll, and yaw as well as linear movement: heave (up and down), sway (side to side), and surge (fore and aft). The military and airlines quickly embraced using these high-fidelity, aircraft-specific machines, and a “flight simulator” became—by definition—an expensive piece of hardware that looked like a real airplane, operated like a real airplane, and moved like a real airplane.
Flash forward to today, and you’ll find that this same attitude has trickled all the way down to GA training. Flight school and FBO owners are quick to jump on the Flight Training Device bandwagon and purchase expensive hardware-based sims guaranteed to make students drool with anticipation. It works, too. Instructors tell prospective students: “You’ve gotta see our sim.” The students take one look ... and pull out their credit cards.
Admittedly, there’s something about a well-constructed simulator that’s almost more appealing than the airplane it models. After all, a real airplane cockpit is just an airplane cockpit. But a simulator ... it looks just like the real thing!
But don’t be fooled by well-intentioned yet misguided marketing material pitching hardware (metal yokes, puffy chairs, and motion) as the secret sauce! Some of the more popular FTD manufacturers actually seem to go out of their way to never mention the software they're using. Instead of telling you that their full-motion simulator uses Microsoft® ESP™ (which is essentially an enterprise version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X), they seem to imply by omission that they developed the software that's the heart of their sim. (Software that, ironically, you can buy yourself for a fraction of the cost of their low-cost simulator, and use with tremendous training benefits by itself—even on a laptop!)
Don’t get me wrong. There’s obviously an important and valuable place in aviation training for approved simulation devices (and lots of acronyms to prove it). We wouldn’t have so many highly skilled and safe pilots flying today if it weren’t for the many hours they’ve spent training in FSTDs, FTDs, PCATDs, BATDs, AATDs, and CPTs over the years.
Yet, consider the simple truth that simulation always has (and always will) happen in a pilot’s mind—not in a hunk of metal.
If you agree with that last statement, then perhaps you’re ready to open your mind to the real power of flight simulation. It lies not in the fidelity of the simulation hardware, but in all the different things you can do with the simulation software. Serving as the simulation engine for a hardware-based “flight simulator” is just one possibility.
Intrigued? Read more about the Flight1 Tech perspective on The Many Benefits of PC-Based Flight Simulation.