Pilot at zero altitude:

The history of flight simulators

The beginning

The first flight simulator, not based on wind, was used in 1910 for training and could be considered a structure. This simulator consisted essentially of two barrel halves, one placed on a pedestal and the other which represented a swinging cockpit. The pilot sat in the upper half barrel, which was moved manually and then had to control various flight attitudes (orientation relative to the Earth’s horizons).

The first trainer

With the First World War, flight training machines were developed in which pilots were to practice spatial orientation. The "Ruggles Orientator" was controlled electrically and by both the instructor who turned the "cockpit" on its axes, as well as the student who tried to keep the cockpit horizontal or level.

Instrument flights

Soon, moveable trainers were equipped with increasingly complex instruments, which were controlled either pneumatically or mechanically. Another development was the ability to record the flight path of the student using a plotter: A pen painted a line on a map and gave the flight instructor the possibility to manually simulate signals from radio beacons.

Developments during the Second World War

During the Second World War, the technical developments in aviation increased substantially. High speeds, retractable gears and much more made flying an increasingly complex task and therefore the precise cooperation among the cockpit crew grew more important. The trainers were specialized in the flight performance and cockpit layouts of specific aircraft types and during this time a new type of trainer emerged: the procedures trainer. In cockpit mock-ups it was first the pilots and then even entire bomber crews who learned how to fly in a team.

Closer to reality

Advances in electronics now made it possible to really simulate instruments and control systems: with the new computers it was possible to calculate the rules of aerodynamics using variables in equations and to incorporate these outputs into the simulation. This was the first time aerodynamic characteristics specific to airplanes could be simulated in the true sense of the word and not by trial and error.

In use for the airlines

After the end of World War II, simulators were also introduced in civil aviation. The first airliner simulator was manufactured by Curtiss-Wright for Pan American Airways. The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser did not move and had no visual system, but the cockpit was completely simulated down to the last detail. An analog computer was brought into use. The crews were therefore able to carry out all flights, training procedures and prepare for emergencies.

Movement comes into play

In the 1960s, with the development of commercial wide-body aircrafts, there was no way to get past increasingly sophisticated motion systems. The three basic axes for the pitch, roll and yaw motions were followed shortly thereafter by the possibility for up-and-down motion. The instruments in the simulator could be precisely controlled and the motion system continued to improve.

More to see

Since the early 70s, computer-generated graphics made their way into the simulators. At first, the scenery was only single white points of light on an otherwise black landscape, but for night flights this was more than sufficient. With the progress of computer technology at the end of the 70s, three-dimensional landscapes were developed and the development continues to this day. Now, the simulator landscapes of today are almost indistinguishable from the real world.

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