Group Editor Marty Kauchak asked four community subject matter experts to reflect on the continued evolution of flight training devices and respond to the question: Is the technology in non-motion devices sufficiently advanced to permit compelling price/performance ratios?

One of the fast-paced learning technology advancements in civil aviation is the continued evolution of flight training devices (FTDs).

CAT invited four community experts to respond to the following assertion: “Delegates at WATS 2018 heard of the simulation and training industry's continued progress, evident through the last several decades, to supply ever more capable part-task trainers and flight training devices. Training organizations, with regulator approval, continue to move more training and certification tasks heretofore completed in full flight simulators, to the curricula supported by these non-motion training devices. Is the technology in non-motion devices sufficiently advanced to permit compelling price/performance ratios?"

Scott Nutter, general manager for Research, AQP and Development at Delta Air Lines: “Delta owns three Level 7 flight training devices (FTDs): one is FAA-certified (August 2017) Airbus A350; and one Boeing B737 and one Airbus A320, that are in the certification process. Further, Delta plans to purchase more level 7 FTDs based on aircraft deliveries and corresponding increased training demand.

With respect to facility benefits provided by a Level 7 FTD, one such device requires approximately 50% less physical installation space than a Level D full flight simulator (FFS). Maintenance cost and parts space requirements are reduced since no motion base support is required. Of particular note, Delta is working with simulator manufacturers to help them understand customer needs versus manufacturing needs. For example, Level 4-6 FTDs fit within normal building spaces and are delivered in smaller modules capable of fitting through office building entry doors. Full flight simulators require customized, two-story doors to accommodate the size of FFS components. Level 7 FTDs based on Level D FFS sim cabs may not be able to be broken down into modules small enough to fit in a standard office building.

From cost and manufacturing perspectives, Delta cannot provide Level 7 FTD cost specifics due to contractual requirements. However, broadly speaking, Level 7 FTDs currently cost 75-85% of a Level D full flight simulator. Beyond cost, simulator manufacturers take different approaches to Level 7 FTD production design. Some essentially build a Level D simulator without a motion base. These use a larger number of aircraft parts and data. Some build a Level 6 FTD to the higher Level 7 standard using more replica parts and programming. Manufacturers are balancing quality of the simulation device against cost of production.

With regard to Delta curriculum usage, current and future, large fleets (e.g. B737, A320) with high training demands can justify the acquisition of Level 7 FTD(s) based on Qualification (type rating) course usage. Indeed, Delta’s recent B737 and A320 Level 7 FTDs can be fully scheduled based on Qualification course use alone. Delta intends to leverage Level 7 FTDs to the fullest extent possible under existing regulations. This applies to all pilot training curricula. More specifically, Delta is currently conducting a Field Study on the effectiveness of Level 7 FTDs in Continuing Qualification (CQ) (i.e. recurrent) training. Crews coming in for CQ training are split into two groups: Group 1 takes two days of CQ training – both in full flight simulators; Group 2 takes two days of CQ training – one day in FFS and one day in Level 7 FTD.

This Field Study will take 18 months to complete. Sixty-seventy percent of simulator time is used for CQ training. The ability to use Level 7 FTDs for a portion of that training makes a compelling business case.”

John Frasca, president and CEO at Frasca International: “At Frasca, we firmly believe that the technology in non-motion devices is advanced enough to allow for compelling price/performance ratios. Frasca has developed and delivered hundreds of flight training devices (FTDs) that include high fidelity modeling, extensive aero data packages, realistic cockpits, control loading and visual systems. These FTDs are extensively used for training, but regulations limit training and checking credits. Pilots are still required to use the aircraft or a full flight simulator (FFS) for at least some of the training and most of the checking.

The next step in flight training device evolution is regulatory advances in the simulator credits allowed. Regulations already define FTD technical requirements in great detail. It’s time to recognize the great capabilities of these devices by allowing them more training and checking credits. The training industry needs to request regulatory exemptions and then document the results. An incremental approach like this assures we are on the right path and do not negatively affect safety. Only in this way can we determine the true value of non-motion or limited motion simulation devices.

We have seen anecdotal evidence that using higher level device or devices built to higher customer requirements have served the industry well. Customers are taking more of a “what can I actually do with the device” approach. The higher the fidelity the more transfer of learning is possible. Tasks get introduced in the device and the aircraft becomes a checking tool to ensure learning has taken place. We see this all the way down to PPL [Private Pilot License] training where traditionally devices only receive very few training credits. Students traditionally do not achieve proficiency in the regulatory minimum flight requirement so are forced to fly more hours. Offloading these additional hours into a high-fidelity training device is more cost effective as it reduces the cost to the student and allows for a targeted training task to be taught, flown and reviewed seamlessly.

The argument for requiring simulator motion for training and checking has been debated as long as simulators have been around. Low cost AATDs [advanced aviation training devices] with motion though, do not get objectively validated to ensure proper motion response. Recent discussions appear to revolve around a task by task analysis of what simulation cues are required for any given flight maneuver. ICAO 9625 took this approach and includes extensive break down of device requirements for maneuvers and we see this as a favorable development.

Our experience in the light helicopter simulation market illustrates that this aircraft class benefits from limited motion. We developed the Frasca Motion Cueing System (FMCS) in response to pilot feedback that FTDs were more difficult to fly than the aircraft. We found that pilot workload with the FMCS’s limited motion, matches that in the aircraft to a greater degree than without motion. Basically, the pilot finds it harder to fly a non-motion light helicopter simulator than one with a realistic limited motion system.

One operator of a Frasca B206 helicopter FTD has received an exemption from the FAA that allows them to perform more training and checking in the FTD than would be allowed in a fixed base FTD. As data is collected it is likely that additional exemptions will be asked for. In this controlled manner we can expand the use of the FTD on a case-by-case basis, learning as we go. Ultimately, if the results of these exemptions are consistently positive a rule change allowing more credits can be considered.

The example of limited motion improving the FTD’s realism might be considered an argument in favor of motion. However, examined more closely it is an argument for appropriate motion. The Frasca Motion Cueing System is a fraction of the size of an FFS motion system, yet, provides the cues important when flying a light helicopter.”

Rob Cole, Flight Standards manager at Airways Aviation Academy, Oxford, United Kingdom: “One of the most expensive costs of a full motion simulator is the hydraulics and mechanics that make the simulator move. To provide a full type rating then it is essential, for regulatory approval, that the simulator mirrors the aeroplane as close as possible, including motion. For the curricula provided by an ATO [approved training organization] like Airways Aviation, which includes the CPL [commercial pilot license] and IR [instrument rating] courses, the simulator training element is not provided for a type rating, but for procedural training only. The non-motion simulator allows the student to learn fundamental skills of tracking, departures, arrivals, approaches and flight planning without the distraction of motion. These skills once learned in a non-motion simulator, will then be transferred to the aeroplane where they will be combined with the required handling skills. The final skills test will be taken in the same aeroplane. Without the cost of maintaining an unnecessary full motion simulator, it brings significant savings to the ATO.”

Don Petersen, head of Sales at Q4 Services Inc.: “Simulation training devices, both fixed base and full flight, have developed and evolved at a rapid pace over recent years – leading the way has been the visual sub-system. The performance, realism, maintainability and value for money of visual systems has progressed more rapidly than any other area of training devices. This progression has been driven by the specialist visual system manufacturers such as Q4.

Q4, a proven world class visual display manufacturer, consistently and successfully combines innovation and new technology to drive development of the market leading visual display and projection solutions that are provided to its global and expanding customer base. All major components of the visual system (optical display, projection and image generation) have meaningfully progressed in recent years.

Q4 now manufactures all its collimated mirror plenums in “modular form” to enable cost effective transportation to any destination in the world, also allowing efficient/flexible installation which has had a material impact on procurement cost.

Due to computing processing and memory development (in both image data processing and video graphics cards) image generators are able to provide greater levels of detail and realism than seen before.

The most dramatic development has been in image projection. The transition from US$150,000 - plus CRT projectors, used on early collimated displays, to high performance digital projection solutions has been rapid in recent years. Initially, high definition resolution LED [light-emitting diode] and LCOS [liquid crystal on silicon] projectors rapidly replaced CRT systems. The introduction of laser phosphor and next generation LED products is enabling a level of realism never experienced before, but the best part is “far more cost effectively”. Q4 has been at the forefront of innovative, high performance and technologically advanced projection solutions with resolution performance as high as ultra-high definition 4K resolution now being supplied for “one tenth” of the cost per channel of the early CRT projection solutions. Projection life cycle costs are also at an all-time low due to low initial purchase cost, long reliable life expectancy and negligible routine maintenance required.

Advances in performance when using new generation digital projectors created other problems such as challenges to achieve acceptable edge blends between channels for all times of day, Q4 solved this issue with a dynamic blinder solution that harnesses and controls the light emitted onto the screen eliminating image overlap brightness. Q4 also developed the system controller product which maximizes the performance of the projectors by dynamically manipulating the operational parameters of the projectors – ultimately enabling the projectors to provide higher performance than in standard set-up.

A visual systems maximum performance will, of course, be limited to its lowest performing element/component, or “weakest link”. The ability to project much higher resolution and brighter images has highlighted another (but often overlooked) critical component – the back projection screen. Modern high performance digital projectors can expose the minutest screen imperfections. Legacy back projection screens were made with high gain coatings to maximize the output from the low light CRT projectors in use at that time. Legacy coatings were ill-suited to the new brighter high definition projection systems being delivered. Q4 developed a new back projection screen technology with a high performance coating that can be modified and adjusted to match the projector performance and maximize the overall displayed image quality. With glass mirrors being extremely expensive, heavy and fragile to ship, Q4 became the industry innovator and exclusive supplier of Mylar as a lower cost mirror alternative. Q4’s image Warping and TrueVue Automatic Alignment System accurately projects and overlaps several images into one perfectly seamless image. This advancement takes one more step forward in Q4’s goal is to create a maintenance free visual system.”

Published in CAT issue 4/2018