The Saxon Microlights Flight Simulator
The British weather! Don’t you just love it?
Even though we operate in an area with some of the UK’s best flying weather, we are still restricted by the wet and windy weather in the Autumn and the short, dreary days in the Winter. Some student pilots solve this by taking a holiday to the warmer Mediterranean countries to continue their practice, but it is expensive and most people can only manage a week or two at the most. At Saxon Microlights we have been spending the wet days and the dark nights on a solution to this problem – our microlight flight simulator.
This simulator is officially a ‘synthetic training device’ and is designed to meet the BMAA’s stringent requirements for such things. It allows the student pilot to sit in a full-size microlight cockpit with all flight controls functional and a good view out into the simulated world beyond the cockpit. Not only does it permit practice ‘flights’ after sunset or when the weather is bad outside, but it does also allow the student pilot to practice at a much lower cost than when flying the real aeroplane.
What is our simulator?
It is a professionally designed flight training aid. Real control column and rudder pedals are connected electronically to a computer system which simulates the behaviour of a real aeroplane. A large screen displays the flight instruments and a view of the world ahead of the cockpit.
On the screen, the instruments are scaled to appear a similar size and at a similar position to the real aircraft which makes it easy for the pilot to swap between the simulator and the real flying. When sat in the simulator’s seat, the perspective view gives a strong sensation of being ‘in the scenery’. This sensation of flying is real enough that a real-world pilots find themselves scanning the distance for ‘other traffic’ that they might need to avoid, and sometimes there is indeed other traffic for them to see!
The secret is that the controls are derived from real Thruster aircraft controls which means that they are in the right position to feel the same as in the real aircraft and the screen is placed so that the pilot gets an accurate perspective view. A sound system run through the aircraft-quality headsets and the base of the seat ensures the pilot can hear and respond to changes in engine sound, airflow noise and even the sound and feel of contact with the runway on landing.
The pilot’s seat and joystick are fitted with ‘tactile transducers’ to simulate the vibration and feel of the aircraft in flight. These are driven with carefully designed waveforms by the simulation computer to provide motion sensations, especially those associated with ground contact at take-off and landing. A large video screen shows an image representing the outside world and the aircraft instruments as viewed by the pilot in the left hand seat. The simulated instruments match the arrangement and behaviour of those in the real aircraft. As in the real aircraft, the instructor sits in the right hand seat and has full access to the controls to demonstrate the manoeuvres being taught. In addition, there is an instructor’s station allowing control over various flight parameters such as weather, fuel contents, or equipment failures such as a stuck airspeed indicator or an overheating engine.
What can we do with the simulator?
1) Have fun!
2) Demonstrate parts of the flying syllabus which need very specific weather conditions (eg. strong crosswinds, or flying in poor visibility and low cloud)
3) Practice exercises which a student is struggling with, without the need for a full flight (eg judging landing height or performing steep turns)
4) Practice take-offs and landings without the need to fly lots of circuits which can disturb the neighbours
5) Practice cross-country navigation on days when the real-world weather is not suitable for doing it for real (and at far less cost).
... and lots more.
For some short video clips click on this link.
For some higher resolution photos click on these links:
Many years ago, Joan worked as a test engineer and programmer* for a company that made flight simulators for the airlines. That was so long ago that one of them has been restored for a museum. There’s a video of it [here].
[* a real one using assembler and machine code – none of your wimpish high level languages for us!]
... and finally, a link to a history of flight simulation so you can see where we fit in the greater scheme of things.