Replicating Reality

Discover the immersive technology behind the FlightSafety simulator programs.

In a Cessna Mustang jet, the approach into East Hampton, New York (KHTO), is an RNAV (GPS) affair. LPV guidance is provided to the Garmin G1000 primary flight display (PFD). It’s daytime, and the PFD lighting is almost garish in its vibrancy. Blues and greens of various shades represent the sky, the ground and the sea on the screens in front of both pilots. This is what synthetic vision is all about. It is a good thing too. The fog bank over Long Island is making this interesting. The airport is advertising minimums—just.

At 1,000 feet, we are fully configured and on speed. The PFD shows us heading right for the runway, with a small tailwind component. At 300 feet, we’re at minimums. I see the runway through the murk. As I flare, I feel the airplane float. We are a foot or two above the runway, but it feels like the airplane is accelerating.

Well past the runway aiming point and aware of the comparatively short runway, I call for a go-around. I push the go-around button, advance the throttles, raise the flaps to take off, call out “positive rate,” flick the gear handle up and sequence the FMS climb to 2,000 feet, and head for the hold at MATHW.

“OK, not too bad,” our instructor says. “I gave you a 20-knot tailwind at the decision altitude, but you were looking outside and didn’t catch it. Let’s try that again.”

So it goes in the Mustang simulator at FlightSafety International in Wichita, Kansas. The experience is in a level-D full-motion simulator: Advanced software, high-speed computer processing and high-resolution glass visuals make the feeling so real, you are surprised when the instructor stops the sim, removing you from the immersed realism of the virtual world to start her critique in real time.

Replicating reality is a thing at FlightSafety International. A big thing. The VITAL 1150 visual system projects ultra-high 4K resolution graphics onto an integrated CrewView wrap around glass display. The field of view in these CrewView simulators extend up to 300-by-60 degrees with a single collimator, which is the largest in the industry providing an immersed landscape of reality. A high frame rate of 120 Hz provides crisp, realistic imagery.

The visuals include comprehensive airport lighting systems and dynamic and enhanced shadowing for detailed topography. Dawn, dusk and five levels of precipitation are simulated. Not that I ever want to need it, but the system can generate realistic views of overwater flying. There are settings for 13 sea states, two swell states, and ocean wave and spray effects. When you think about the basic trainer developed by Edwin Link in 1929, you get a sense as to how far simulation has come.

When it comes to rare but dangerous real-world situations, innovative methods and immersive technology are the best tools for teaching pilots upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT). In the simulator, the consequence of trying to climb over weather at high altitude without careful management of airspeed can be safely, and memorably, demonstrated. Loss of control in-flight (LOC-I) is frequently cited as a major cause of aircraft accidents. This makes upset prevention a critical part of operating a modern jet. Just imagine trying to safely demonstrate situations that can result in loss of control in a real jet—it would be disastrous.

Ground school at FlightSafety International
Ground school at FlightSafety International. FlightSafety International

Speaking of in-airplane training, the reality replication of FlightSafety simulator programs has some obvious advantages. I know this from personal experience. As an ATP with five type ratings, one of which was obtained in an actual jet, I can attest to the superiority of simulator training. When being trained in a live, honest-to-goodness jet, small nuances are easily missed in the heat of instruction. Even big lessons can get lost in the fog of repeated approaches with no time to reflect because you have to maintain control of the airplane throughout the session. It is very difficult to process a comment about max engine performance while you’re trying to wrestle a one-engine-inoperative airplane on a single-engine go-around.

Not only that, but some in-airplane maneuvers are cause for anxiety. Yes, the instructor just pulled one engine to idle at V1. As you overcorrect the rudder input, you think, Did he really just do that? In the blur of flight, lessons flash by unprocessed. In the simulator, “freeze mode” allows one to see exactly what the abnormal situation is and how it affects the conduct of flight. Furthermore, simulator-data collection has multiple positive contributions to safety. It is a way to identify aviationwide issues and emphasize those issues in recurrent training.

FlightSafety works with corporate flight departments to develop training initiatives for their crews. Companies that collect flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) data can share these findings on a de-identified anonymous basis. This allows training to be tailored to that specific flight department’s needs. If your home base is an uncontrolled field in mountainous terrain, the number of unstable nighttime approaches flown by your team will be of obvious and immediate concern.

FlightSafety has started to use aggregated FOQA data to identify areas of focus called “spotlights.” Spotlights are incorporated into the training curricula and don’t add additional training time to the sessions, be they initial or recurrent. This benefits the entire fleet.

Let’s face it: Replicating reality starts in ground school. To prepare for emergency and (the euphemistically labeled) “abnormal” situations, pilots need to understand aircraft systems, avionics, flying characteristics in various flight regimes, and emergency procedures before hopping in the sim. FlightSafety’s desktop simulators, graphical flight-deck sims, and avionics procedure trainers get them ready.

FlightSafety instructor at a simulator station during training
FlightSafety instructor at a simulator station during training. FlightSafety International

In FlightSafety’s MATRIX integrated training system, the same logic and software found in the level-D simulator is accessible in a desktop training format. Virtual preflight walkarounds are becoming available for some initial training courses. Pilots can walk around the airplane, open panels, and check system operations in a virtual 3D simulator. (These 3D simulators are also starting to play a big role in maintenance training programs at FlightSafety International.)

None of the whiz-bang simulator graphics or 3D virtual walkarounds would be of much use without first-rate, knowledgeable, experienced and approachable instructors. Sitting behind the pilots, the instructor controls an FS1000 simulator station with intuitive interface, scalable graphics and large displays with touchscreen controls. The instructor can gin up adverse weather, systems failure or airspeed conditions. The “pause” capability of these simulators is one of the most useful features in all of training. The instructor can then reset the condition, position and configuration of the aircraft, and you can “fly” the airplane again, based on the feedback you just received. In the in-airplane training situation, there is an opportunity to discuss these conditions only once you have landed and are in a debriefing room.

FlightSafety has worked closely with airplane and avionics manufacturers for decades. Courses and curricula are designed with their input. Actually, FlightSafety simulators are often used by OEMs to flight-test crews or develop flight-test procedures. It is not uncommon for FlightSafety’s training materials to be developed ahead of OEM aircraft material on a new program. This allows both the FSI and the OEM to benefit from thorough testing. A pilot’s operating handbook may be written from FlightSafety training materials.

Recently out of recurrent training myself, I was flying my CJ1 from Santa Fe, New Mexico (KSAF), to Pittsburgh (KAGC) with three pax and lots of luggage. After heading east on the TAFOY2 departure, a curtain of dark clouds threatened our path. I could see on Nexrad, on the onboard radar and out the window that a turn to our destination would be possible if we were cleared to a higher altitude. I watched as our angle of attack gradually increased. With the autopilot in flight level change mode, I carefully monitored our airspeed. Unusually high temperatures resulted in a slow climb. All the while, the lessons of high-altitude stalls were in my mind. When we leveled out at FL390, a brisk tailwind soon freshened our route. The pax were oblivious. Thanks to recurrent training, they sat back there reading newspapers and a novel.

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