What is a Flight Simulator?

DSC_6685It is safe to say that most people do not exactly know what a Flight Simulator is. Some might think of Microsoft Flight Simulator, a Flight Simulator in its own right, but not the type of Flight Simulator we are concerned with here at Prince Sultan Aviation Academy. A Flight Simulator is a training device used to train Flight Deck Crew (Pilots); it is a lot cheaper and safer to use in place of real airplanes. A would be pilot can surely train using Microsoft Flight Simulator but that training would not be recognized (credited) by his National Aviation Authority (in our case, the GACA). For a pilot training to be credited, that training must be conducted in a “Qualified” Flight Simulator. Such a simulator is normally referred to as a Full Flight Simulator (FFS) and its annual qualification is done through
GACA.

All FFSs at PSAA are GACA qualified Level ‘D’ FFSs. Level ‘D’ is the highest qualification level for a FFS. A level ‘D’ qualification means that the FFS replicates the airplane in all aspects (cockpit, flight dynamics, visual cues, sound cues and motion cues). A level ‘D’ FFS is a very expensive and complex training device and, to maintain its operation & qualification, a high level of skill and expertise is required.

So, what is a Full Flight Simulator? A FFS is an enclosure (shell) that sits on 6 hydraulic (or electric) moving legs. The shell houses:

  • The visual optics that display Computer Generated Images of the outside world,
  • The exact replica of the cockpit of a certain airplane,
  • An area for the instructor (IOS), and
  • An area for the power supplies and electronic cards that “link” the cockpit to a “Host” PC.

Below the shell, mechanical parts provide the appropriate “feel” to the aircraft controls inside the cockpit, when operated by the pilots, throughout the phases of flight (Control Loading). The 6 legs (Actuators) are basically a cylinder with a moving piston that extends or retracts. The direction and extent of movement on each leg is dictated by the “Host”. All 6 legs move in “synergy” to provide what is referred to as 6 Degrees of Freedom (6 DoF). 6 DoF means the FFS can provide movement in 6 axes (pitch, roll, yaw, heave, sway and surge). In case of hydraulic motion, a motion pump provides the hydraulic pressure needed to move the simulator legs. The new technology now is Electro Mechanical Motion (EMM) where a motor inside each leg drives a screw like piston that extends or retracts the leg.

The FFS complex is made-up of many computers, each controlling a certain area of the simulation (Control Loading, Motion, Visual, Sound…) and the Host computer controls the whole show. The various computers and sub-assemblies are connected together through a web of networks and protocols.

Hopefully, this modest attempt did answer the question.

In closing, it is worth mentioning that PSAA maintains 7 Level ‘D’ Full Flight Simulators and Technical Services is the department entrusted with the day to day operation and maintaining qualification of those FFSs.

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