If you blinked, you might have missed the news that airline flight training provider CTC Aviation has earned UK Civil Aviation Authority certification for a Boeing Next Generation 737 full-flight simulator.

What is interesting is who built the simulator: Rockwell Collins.

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based company, best known for airline avionics, this summer began building Level D, zero time full-flight simulators for airlines, a new direction for its simulator business that had previously built units only for the military. Rockwell Collins has been contracted to build two full-flight simulators for CTC, based on its Common Open Reusable Elements (Core) simulation technology.


But why jump headlong into a market full of established competitors headlined by the likes of CAE, FlightSafety International, Mechtronix and Thales?

"Nothing happens at Rockwell Collins without a strategy behind it," says Kent Statler, services group executive vice-president and a chief architect of the move to enter the airline market. "Back in 2003, we saw that we were losing a portion of the lifecycle in the training and simulation market despite the fact that most of what drives the simulation experience resides in the avionics intellectual property."

 © Rockwell Collins

The solution was simple: "expansion into total life cycle solutions of the product", which in this case is a fancy way of saying the company should build simulators and associated equipment to help train pilots and mechanics in both the military and civil world with dual-use equipment.

The strategy demanded acquisition of the best and brightest in the field. It began with a $100 million a year revenue company called NLX, a provider of simulators and training elements for a variety of aircraft platforms for the US military, including full-flight simulators for the US Air Force's Rockwell B-1B and Boeing B-52 bomber programmes.

"We quickly realised that if we really wanted to grow, we'd have to establish clear differentiation in our products in terms of the realism that could be created," says Statler. Realism in the realm of simulators is a function of the visual system, which is comprised of an image generator, a display and a projector.

"At the time, we knew the future was in the ability to create the most realistic experience to optimise the military's readiness whether in combat or in commercial airspace," says Statler.

The assessment drove the acquisition of Evans & Sutherland's simulation business in 2006, a unit that at the time was generating $50 million revenue a year.

"They had run-time software that allowed for terrain development rapidly and modifications for real-time changes. For instance a tank fires a mortar shell and makes a crater," says Statler. "The vehicle being simulated must then drive into that crater."

For the "second part" of realism - the interaction between the image generator and surface the image is displayed on - Collins acquired visual display system provider SEOS in 2008.

From an architectural standpoint, the company developed its Core open architecture simulation line. Core has about 70% commonality between all platforms whether civil or military, with the remaining 30% specific to each platform type.

The 737NG simulator, for which Rockwell Collins plans to receive US Federal Aviation Administration approval, is the first product in the Core line.


Statler says Rockwell Collins did not enter the civil market with specific market share or revenue goals. "There was no mantra put on it," he says, except that the overall product line should span the civil and military sectors and be a "clear differentiator" for the company.

"We now have a suite of products including desktop trainers, virtual procedure trainers, full-flight simulators and other products," says Statler. "Across them all, the same image generation and run-time software operates seamlessly."

He adds: "When I go into a Level D training device, I have the same database that runs across full suite of products. It allows a connected network of people being trained at the same time, all seeing the same thing in the scene."

Source: Flight International