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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.