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What We Look For In Our Reviews – Part 1

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Andrew

Andrew

What We Look For In Our Reviews – Part 1

Part one of a three part series discussing the factors we look at when visiting simulator venues.

As I write this article the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world with enormous impacts on peoples lives. From working in the airline industry I see this has had an enormous impact on operations with many of us now with our “feet-up” waiting to see when we will return to flying duties.

From a business point-of-view there is a small sliver of a silver lining in that there is now some spare time to start working our way through the website’s blog posts, something that has sat on the to-do-list for the past few months.

Having now conducted eleven reviews with simulator businesses, mostly in the UK such as Ascent Aviation in Glasgow, we wanted to produce a short series of posts on what we look at during our review of simulator venue, which then results in the business becoming a Featured Venue.

Our three-part approach in a review is based on our experience in what makes a good simulator and feedback from our readers. These three parts are: the simulator(s); the venue; and, often most importantly, the staff and business model. So in this Part 1 of a three part series we are going to look at the factors we consider with the flight simulator itself.

The Flight Simulator

For simplicity I’ll refer to simulator in the singular here as for most businesses we visit there is only one simulator, normally either an A320 or a B737. However, of course, some businesses do operate more than one, for example with our friends over at Delta 5 Simulators who operate six! Mind you, their business model does focus more on the training side of the market rather than the flight experience side of things.

A typical business will have their trusty A320 or B737 as their central attraction. And what we look for is broken into three sections: the visuals; the sound and tactile inputs; and the overall realism.

Visuals

Of course for most flight simulation enthusiasts the visuals are often the key factor in their flight experience. As most simulators users book on fixed base models, the level of immersion of thinking one is “flying the real thing” comes from the quality of the visual arrangement. In our first post we wrote about collimated visual displays and how they are particularly important in multi-crew training. However we notice for the entertainment side of the market it is very unusual to have this setup, and to large extent not really necessary.

Even if a visual system is collimated many do of course have a curved screen in place, this does help in-part with non-collimated arrangements. So we look at whether the screen is one-continuous piece or is it in sections? With most screens these days there is more than one projector unit and so these have to be knitted together to trick the human eye into thinking it is looking at one continuous image; we look at how well this knitting is done. Are there any black spots? Is the lighting consistent across the whole display?

And depending on how well that part of the display is done it really does then impact on the detail of terrain, airports, etc that is projected and how smooth the movements of these images are. The ideal we are looking for is high detail with smooth graphic movement – in particular close to the ground.

Sound and Tactile Inputs

Where there is a little more leeway for simulator venues is the physical construction of the simulator, as most of their users would never have been in the equivalent real flight deck nor say a high-grade Level D full motion simulator. Although what we do find in our visits is a consistency in product delivery. For example, where a business has delivered a realistic visual system for the customer they do the same for the physical flight deck.

Factors we look for include the control loading on the flying controls, we often find in roll the inputs are good but pitch tends to be a little more sluggish. The quality and feel of the buttons and switches and how many are actually functional as opposed to painted on or are stickers.

Never to be underestimated in how they lend themselves to the immersion of the user into a “real” flying environment are the ambient noises and the tactile feel as flaps and landing gear move. A great example of this is with our friends at Ascent Aviation (I know they do get mentioned a fair-bit on our site, but it is an excellent setup) with a recent addition of “vibration for the pilots seats”. This provides the budding pilot with a much greater sensation for touch-down, gear movement and flap extension.

Realism

The last category is realism and it’s pretty much everything else about the simulator that brings the pilot into believing the virtual world being presented. In this category we look at items such as seat quality, are they real aircraft seats or as close as possible? For example we noted during our visit with Delta 5 the seats had no harnesses, vertical adjustment, etc.

We also look at how well the simulator is connected to the outside world through real-time weather updates, VATSIM hook-ups and with multiple simulators whether they are networked for LAN “fly-ins”.

Summary

So that ends Part 1 in our three part series looking at what we consider during our visits to bring businesses into our Featured Venue listings. Next week we are going to look at the physical location itself, which will consider such issues as how easy is the place to find, what is the parking like and how are less mobile customers catered for.

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Learning to Fly in 30 Minutes?

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Andrew

Andrew

Learning to Fly in 30 Minutes?

A company called Skyryse is claiming a person at zero hours can learn how to fly an aircraft with their new FlightOS. Really?

Yesterday we tweeted about an article we came across at interestingengineering.com titled “Novel Flight System Could Teach Anyone to Fly in 30 Minutes” (I’m suspecting not literally anyone?). It was reported a company called Skyryse was claiming that with its new FlightOS they could teach someone to learn how to fly a “noncommercial” aircraft in 30 minutes.

Even though they didn’t go into what “noncommercial” meant for the purposes of the article, we were interested to see exactly what they were claiming – a dubious claim at best, but great click-bait all the same.

Unfortunately the article lacked any useful details, other than the new system provided a “more intuitive” means of aircraft handling than is currently available as it enables the pilot to operate the aircraft through a tablet or joystick (I think Airbus might be trialing the latter at the moment?).

With greater use of automation, in particular through flight envelope protections and non-normal situations, someone is able to pilot an aircraft with next to no training (in the traditional time and costs of current ATPL requirements).

Perhaps we aren’t going to be seeing this system on one’s Boeing or Airbus anytime soon but it does add fuel to the growing pressures to move us towards even further automation in the flight deck. And to reduce the crewing complements this will entail. For example the most critical phases of flight are still of course take-off and landing. However on long-sectors, for example LHR to SIN, there are four pilots on board with the extra two required for crew rest during the 12 odd hours of flight time.

The increasing acceptance of automation to assist or even carryout pilot functions in non-normal situations and with increasing monitoring and enforcement of flight envelope protections, two pilots at the controls at any onetime could be removed.

When I’ve heard these points raised by others in the past the“public perception” argument normally comes up, along the lines “… the public wouldn’t accept a reduction in pilot complements on their trip down to TFS for their annual summer break”. However, I suggest they already do. I base this on two observations. The first is when one hears about an aircraft incident on the news the sequence of words is normally “ … and THE pilot did such and such …”. Which has always made me wonder where the other guy was. Of course I know they are referring to the captain, who is the legal commander of the aircraft. But what they are also doing is acknowledging that the captain is a pilot where as the other chap is not.

Which brings me to point two. I was heading down to China (when we could fly there) and a nervous passenger asked to come up to the flight deck during boarding so as to “calm the nerves”. She was genuinely surprised to see three chaps in uniform on the flight deck. Upon which after establishing who the captain was she asked “So what do you two do then?”. My piping up that I just made the coffee was somewhat overruled by the captain’s more informative response.

My point in this little aside is that the public’s understanding of a pilot’s job and what happens day-to-day is so limited that the greater use of automation and the move towards single-pilot ops for commercial passenger travel, at least during the cruise, has nothing to do with the public resistance, but only faces the regulatory hurdles such moves generate. And we perhaps should work through these hurdles as the aviation industry, through hard earned experience, has learnt over the years that changes are best done slowly.

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