The world of flight simulation has changed quite a bit since Edwin Link invented the first flight simulator in 1931; today, realistic simulation is available in packages that range from software that can run on a desktop computer up to multimillion-dollar systems used to train airline and military pilots.
The availability of increasingly sophisticated flight-simulation software that runs on PC hardware makes it possible for pilots to maintain some proficiency (and have fun) at home. Until recently, the vast majority of such systems ran on multipurpose computers in home offices; few could afford to completely dedicate a computer to simulation or gaming. Utilizing a multiuse PC tends to be a less-than-ideal experience. The typical home-office desk doesn’t offer a good place for a yoke; rudder pedals get lost in the typical rat’s nest of cables under the desk; and while PC-based flight-simulation software can provide a reasonable facsimile of either the view out the window or the instrument panel, it’s tough to do a good job putting both on a single display. Most such setups require you to use the mouse to control radios, which isn’t terribly realistic, either.
Today, however, armchair pilots are beginning to buy hardware that provides a far more realistic experience. If you’re willing to spend the money, it’s possible to come up with a system that uses multiple screens to provide a wraparound view of the virtual world out the windows; control panels with realistic controls (including a full-blown radio stack); and even a full-blown motion simulator that banks your chair (and computer) when you move your control stick. And software is available that lets you do everything, from practicing crosswind landings to instrument approaches. When you finish practicing, the same hardware can be used for virtual air-racing and air-combat games, providing an entertainment experience beyond what you can find in most video arcades!
HotSeat Chassis was developed by engineer and inventor Jay Leboff, whose 14-year-old son complained that his home PC didn’t make a very good platform for games. Leboff’s solution is a dedicated mount for a PC and display that’s built around an adjustable bucket seat, with space for a yoke or stick, rudder pedals and built-in Dolby 5.1 speakers, including a subwoofer located under the seat. The company offers several models, ranging from an entry-level $1,449 unit, to which you add your own computer and peripherals, up to a complete system for $4,674, which includes a 27-inch widescreen, flat-panel display connected to a game-ready computer running a 2.2 GHz Intel quad-core processor with 4 GB of RAM, state-of-the-art video, mouse, keyboard, control yoke, rudder pedals and Microsoft Flight Simulator X (it’s also compatible with X-Plane). The company also offers special-order models with additional features, including multiple displays and FAA-approved flight controls.
|ASA’s On Top ELITE Lighted ATD is FAA-approved and includes a computer, two display screens, rudder pedals, radio stack and throttle quadrant. DreamFlyer (opposite page) offers a strong illusion of motion, with users rotating by 15 degrees in pitch and roll motions.|
DreamFlyer from Flight Motion Simulators was invented by George “Doc” Holloway, a “flight-simulation fan, lifelong tinkerer and computer technician” who wasn’t satisfied with the realism of even the most sophisticated home flight-simulation systems. After five years of experiments and multiple prototypes, he’s come up with what amounts to a low-cost motion simulator, in which the pilot’s own weight causes his (or her) body—and an attached computer display and controls—to rotate by up to 15 degrees in pitch and roll about a central pivot point. Add simulation software, and the illusion of motion can be uncanny. One user told us: “Your eyes tell you that you’re in a left bank, and the tilt of the chair really gives a sense that you’re in a bank.” He says it works best in a darkened room, where your only visual cue comes from the computer display; in a bright room it still works, but the effect is less pronounced. DreamFlyer is compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, and is available in several models with prices starting at $2,375.
Precision Flight Controls builds a wide range of flight-simulation hardware for both home and professional use, including accurate Mooney, Beech and Jetliner yokes; flight consoles; and single or dual professional rudder pedals. Precision Flight Controls hardware is compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator, X-Plane and ELITE software. The company also offers several FAA-approved simulators built using various combinations of the aforementioned components, including the $5,195 Cat II Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD), based on X-Plane Professional software, which can be used to perform (and log) the practice approaches necessary to maintain instrument currency.
Aviation Supplies and Academics (ASA) offers a wide range of simulation products intended primarily for flight training but also used in a surprising number of homes, according to ASA’s Fred Zanegood. Their On Top ELITE Lighted Basic ATD is a complete, FAA-approved training device that includes a computer, two displays, rudder pedals, realistic radio stack, throttle quadrant and software. In contrast to earlier PC-based aviation training devices (PCATDs), the $5,295 On Top ELITE Basic ATD can be used to fulfill instrument currency requirements (under CFI supervision). It provides a realistic simulation of instrument flight.
|HotSeat Chassis has a dedicated PC mount and display that’s built around an adjustable bucket seat and features a control stick, rudder pedals and Dolby 5.1 speakers.|
ELITE Simulation Solutions offers what the company calls “the most advanced IFR simulator available for the personal computer.” The latest version includes 12 virtual airplanes (ranging from a Cessna 172R and Piper Archer up to a Beech King Air B200), a navigation database covering the United States and Canada, real-world weather simulation, highly detailed panels with instruments that can be switched between ADF and RMI or DG and HSI, two simulated GPS units, approach-chart viewing, simulated Bendix-King avionics (including the EFS-40 EHSI-EADI) and virtual instrument covers for realistic partial panel work. ELITE 8.1 Premium retails for $499. The company also provides a wide range of simulation hardware, from yokes and rudder pedals to complete FAA-approved basic and advanced ATDs.
Jeppesen SIMCharts is a $41.95 software package that lets you view real approach, departure, arrival and airport charts. The latest version covers all the airports in Microsoft Flight Simulator X (some 25,000 charts) and displays aircraft position on the chart (similar to using Jeppesen’s JeppView Flight Deck product with a compatible GPS in an actual airplane). Or print out the charts you need and put them on a clipboard. SIMCharts aren’t current and aren’t intended for navigation in a real airplane.
By far the most popular software for home flight simulation is Microsoft Flight Simulator. The latest version, introduced just last year, includes highly realistic versions of some 24 aircraft, ranging from an Air Creation trike ultralight up to a Boeing 747-400. Four of the included airplanes (Beech Baron 58, Cessna 172SP and Mooney Bravo) are available in versions with conventional “steam-gauge” instrumentation or state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass cockpits. Besides the simulated aircraft, Flight Simulator X offers realistic weather, highly detailed terrain, and simulated air and ground traffic. Add-ons are available for it from Microsoft and a wide variety of third-party vendors. A related product, Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator, provides an air-to-air combat environment where you fly one airplane and attempt to shoot down others that are controlled by the computer or by other players connected over the Internet.
X-Plane is a competitor to Flight Simulator that’s largely the work of one man: Austin Meyer, who wrote the first version for his own use when he was a college student. In contrast to Flight Simulator, X-Plane actually models the aerodynamics of simulated airplanes using blade element analysis, which makes it possible to test your own airplane designs (or modifications of existing designs). The underlying feature set of X-Plane is every bit as rich as Flight Simulator, with some additional features that are unique, such as the ability to fly simulated airplanes in the atmosphere of Mars.
|For More Information|
|Aviation Supplies & Academics (ASA)
|ELITE Simulation Solutions
|Flight Motion Simulators
|HotSeat Flight Sim
|Microsoft Flight Simulator X
|Precision Flight Controls