Motion base platforms, wether they be two, three or six axis and more, have been apart of the simulation industry for a very long time. Longer than one might think... I decided to do some research on the industry that I have been apart of for almost 30 years and this is what I found.
Surprisingly!! The simulation industry is relatively old (almost 100 years!), but not quite as old as planes have been in the sky.
What is interesting about this article is that even the very FIRST flight trainer had motion on it!! The USSAF figured out very quickly the need for pilot training once they had to start flying the mail across the country. I could not believe that one of the reasons for flight simulation wasn't for military... it was for the US Mail!
A Brief History of Flight Simulation
Some of the first simulators for military came into being to teach pilots how to fire their gun at a moving target. This started during WWI. Deflection shooting required skill and practice so a simulator/trainer was developed for the pilots.
The best-known early flight simulation device was the Link Trainer, produced by Edwin Link in Binghamton, New York, USA, which he started building in 1927. He later patented his design, which was first available for sale in 1929. The Link Trainer was a basic metal frame flight simulator usually painted in its well-known blue color.
Ed Link was an amateur pilot. He was dissatisfied with the amount of real flight training that was available so he decided to build a ground-based device to provide such training without the restrictions of weather and the availability of aircraft and flight instructors. His design had a pneumatic motion platform driven by inflatable bellows which provided pitch and roll cues. An electric motor rotated the platform, providing yaw cues. A generic replica cockpit with working instruments was mounted on the motion platform. When the cockpit was covered, pilots could practice flying by instruments in a safe environment. The motion platform gave the pilot cues as to real angular motion in pitch (nose up and down), roll (wing up or down) and yaw (nose left and right).
Initially, aviation flight schools showed little interest in the "Link Trainer". Link also demonstrated his trainer to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), but with no result. However, the situation changed in 1934 when the Army Air Force was given a government contract to fly the postal mail. This included having to fly in bad weather as well as good, for which the USAAF had not previously carried out much training. During the first weeks of the mail service, nearly a dozen Army pilots were killed. The Army Air Force hierarchy remembered Ed Link and his trainer. Link flew in to meet them at Newark Field in New Jersey, and they were impressed by his ability to arrive on a day with poor visibility, due to practice on his training device. The result was that the USAAF purchased six Link Trainers, and this can be said to mark the start of the world flight simulation industry.
The principal pilot trainer used during World War II was the Link Trainer. Some 10,000 were produced to train 500,000 new pilots from allied nations, many in the USA and Canada because many pilots were trained in those countries before returning to Europe or the Pacific to fly combat missions. Almost all US Army Air Force pilots were trained in a Link Trainer.
A different type of World War II trainer was used for navigating at night by the stars. The Celestial Navigation Trainer of 1941 was 13.7 m (45 ft) high and capable of accommodating the navigation team of a bomber crew. It enabled sextants to be used for taking "star shots" from a projected display of the night sky.
In 1954, United Airlines bought four flight simulators at a cost of $3 million from Curtiss-Wright that were similar to the earlier models, with the addition of visuals, sound and movement. This was the first of today's modern flight simulators for commercial aircraft. For over 60 years, full-flight simulation, with visuals, sounds, feedback control and full motion, has been an integral part of pilot training.
Motion in Flight Simulators
Statistically significant assessments of skill transfer based on training on a simulator and leading to handling an actual aircraft are difficult to make, particularly where motion cues are concerned. Large samples of pilot opinion are required and many subjective opinions tend to be aired, particularly by pilots not used to making objective assessments and responding to a structured test schedule. For many years, it was believed that 6 DOF motion-based simulation gave the pilot closer fidelity to flight control operations and aircraft responses to control inputs and external forces and gave a better training outcome for students than non-motion-based simulation. This is described as "handling fidelity", which can be assessed by test flight standards such as the numerical Cooper-Harper rating scale for handling qualities. Recent scientific studies have shown that the use of technology such as vibration or dynamic seats within flight simulators can be equally as effective in the delivery of training as large and expensive 6-DOF FFS devices.
We at Servos & Simulation feel that motion in flight simulation is a MUST, but the simulator itself must have the exact handling cues of the actual aircraft. These include:
- By taking the actual flight dynamics of the aircraft and modeling them in software. This makes the motion base "handle" exactly like the aircraft.
- By insuring that the system performs properly, it insures that the pilot is getting the highest level of fidelity for pilot training.
- By making sure that the CG of the aircraft, which is different for each and every aircraft, is produced by the motion base.
Without these three cues being properly executed, motion in simulation is just moving the pilot around and can lead to motion simulation sickness. If you would like to learn more about simulator sickness, read this article here.
We, at Servos & Simulation, offer a full range of motion base platform products from large FAA level D motion bases to small under the seat vibration systems as referenced in the article.
For more information on our product line, please check out our web site at www.servos.com.