Sabena makes simulation feel real

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New system could revolutionise zero flight-time pilot training by making handling more lifelike and effective

Brussels, Belgium-based flight training organisation has developed a system for making Level D full flight simulator (FFS) motion systems reproduce more precisely the sensation of flying an aircraft.

FFSs have always been harder to "fly" than the aircraft they represent, which leads pilots to develop "strategies" for coping with the simulator's motion systems rather than learning the aircraft's flying characteristics, according to Sabena Flight Academy-Development (SFA-D).

This inability to learn, in a simulator, how the real aircraft feels and handles - even if the simulator represents its performance accurately - is particularly bad for first officers using Level D FFS training to gain a zero flight-time (ZFT) type rating, says SFA-D's master of product development Guy Talemans. Many first officers carry out their first real landing on revenue flights.

The main problem with a ZFT FFS as a training device is its motion and acceleration simulation system, says Antwerp University's professor in medical physics and biostatics Dr Floris Wuyts, because although the visual cues - the instruments and the external visual systems - are high fidelity, the motion system logic means the visual inputs are often at odds with physical sensations. Wuyts has been working on the project with SFA-D.

The company has applied the "control method", dubbed Lm² (lateral manoeuvring motion), to a 20-year-old Boeing 737-300 FFS. SFA-D director Filip Van Biervliet has shown the system to simulation giants CAE and Mechtronix, and will demonstrate it to Thales. He says it can be applied to their products while adding "no more than 2%" to the price of the FFS.

He is demonstrating the system to airlines and aircraft manufacturers as simulator companies say customers are content with existing systems. Van Biervliet says that, with the agreement of the simulator manufacturer, Lm² could be operating for a customer within three months.

So how does it work?