Brief History of Flight Simulation

Mankind has always been fascinated with airplanes. However, to ensure safety for air passengers it is imperative that pilots are adequately trained to handle the aircraft. It is not always possible to train a pilot in a real aircraft for obvious reasons. This is where flight simulators come in handy.

Flying High

A flight simulator as the name suggests, simulates or creates an environment similar to that of a real aircraft for training purposes. brief1The pilot is able to get a first-hand knowledge of the conditions and environment that he will encounter while flying a real aircraft, with the various flight controls, and it helps him to understand the nuances of flying in the face of various factors that he may have to overcome, such as turbulence, air density and clouds.

Simulators are also used to test design elements in aircrafts and to improve flight control designs. Flight simulators have been in use since the First World War.

The Chronology of the Flight Simulator

  • The flight simulator had humble beginnings in the year 1910. It was a simple structure with two barrel halves, one mounted on a pedestal and the other a swinging structure that simulated a swinging cockpit. The pilot had to control various flight attitudes by sitting in the top swinging half, which had to be manually adjusted.
  • With the coming of the World Wars the flight simulators also underwent certain improvements. During World War I ground based simulators were developed to teach the pilots how to shoot at a moving target. Spatial orientation was taught to the pilots with the simulator known as a “Ruggles Orientator”, which was an electrically controlled machine.
  • The next advanced flight simulators were mechanically controlled with complex instruments and an option to plot the path of the flight using a plotter.
  • The complexity of the simulators increased with the onset of the Second World War. Simulators were now equipped with gears and could achieve higher speeds. The “Procedures Trainer”, a new type of simulator, was introduced. Pilots and bombers were trained to fly as a team in these simulators.brief2
  • Simulators were not only used in wartime, but they were also used to train pilots who flew passenger aircraft. Curtiss-Wright manufactured the first of its kind for training pilots of Pan American Airways. Though the simulator was immobile, the cockpit was an exact simulation of a passenger aircraft, complete with an analogue computer.
  • In the 1960’s critical movements of the aircraft, such as the pitch, roll and yaw were introduced in the simulators, which were then followed by up and down motions as well. The simulators were further advanced in the 1970’s with computer graphics. Scenery which started out as white points on black backgrounds, advanced to three-dimensional landscapes by the end of the decade.
  • The simulators have been upgraded and have continued to improve to keep themselves on par with the unprecedented growth in the commercial flight sector. Simulators have now completely eradicated the flight training accidents and concurrent loss of lives, this apart from the fact that pilots are well versed to instinctively deal with emergencies.

Simulation plays a significant role in the training of pilots who fly aircraft’s for commercial purposes or for warfare. However, the early days of the simulator did not follow any set standards. Later, small groups of airlines felt it important to introduce some standards in simulators. These airlines joined forces to establish a common set standard for simulators; the association is known as the IAFSTA (International Airline Flight Simulator Technical Association). International simulator standards have been set and the simulation industry is growing by leaps and bounds.

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