Just how well simulators work for fighter applications is debatable. The consensus is that sims are great for replicating large scale exercises with realistic weapons and visuals, but they are less effective at simulating close range visual engagements and building general airmanship.
One of the biggest limitations is that even with some level of motion, simulators cannot normally replicate the physiological effects on the human body. Simulators cannot train student pilots on aspects of flight such as experiencing G loading and the associated vestibular effects; nor can they replicate the “feel” of an aircraft, such as airframe buffet cues.
“Full motion is great, but you aren’t pulling Gs or getting into situations where you can get disoriented due to your inner ear getting screwed up from accelerations you are feeling, but your eyes aren’t seeing,” says one highly experienced USAF fighter pilot. “This is a human factors discussion, but I’ve found full motion not to be that big of a deal for fighter missions.”
But one company says they have found a way to add G forces and the associated vestibular effects. “We wish to introduce you to a capability which you may be unfamiliar with but that does produce the real physiological effects of flight with full motion, not just motion cuing and that we believe could be the partial, if not total solution to the training and financial challenges in the future,” says Environmental Tectonics Corporation. “We would like to introduce you to our ATFS 400 PHOENIX – a dynamic motion platform that simulates tactical flight complete with full motion and all the real physiological effects of flight.”
Another highly experienced fighter pilot who watched these two videos says it’s tough to gauge how useful the technology could be. “That’s a tough one,” he says. “It could have potential but I am pretty skeptical.” The pilot, who has had recent time in a centrifuge, says he is skeptical because in his (vast) experience “the centrifuge is nothing like the jet either.” The pilot adds: “Hard to explain, but you get motion sick and feel horrible after a centrifuge because you’re spinning sideways!”
I also showed the videos to a highly experienced naval test pilot who actually completed his master’s thesis in simulations. “They basically have a fancy centrifuge,” he says. “No doubt it provides G awareness training benefits.”
“It’s probably very good for putting G on the individual in a realistic sim flying environment,” the test pilot says. “But there is more to proprioceptive feedback (seat of the pants) than just G onset and G sustained.”
Generally, there are two types of motion simulators–one of the types, like this device, does G onset and sustained G forces. Another type does six degrees of freedom–pitch, roll, yaw, sway, and surge.
“I don’t know of one today that does both,” the test pilot says. “The latter is what is important for all of the other flying tasks that don’t involve G per se.” That could include take-offs, landings especially on a carrier and short take-off/vertical landing flights, formations, aerial refueling and what not.
“The benefit they seemed to focus on is that you could take a pilot from their undergraduate trainer that was not a 9G airplane and put them in this as a work up to their 9G fighter,” the test pilot says. Right now, the USAF uses the F-16 as a bridge to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor for B-course students coming out of UPT and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals.
“Currently there is no formal plan for a lead in trainer for the F-35, but that is not to say that might not be a decision in the future,” the test pilot says. “Given that the F-35C is a 7.5G and the F-35B is a 7G airplane, I’m not sure there would be much interest in this for those users.”