The past and future of flight training: from wooden barrels to SynFlyt spheres
Flight motion simulators have come a long way in the last century and innovative SynFlyt is leading them into the future, producing high tech at a low price, through ingenious design and manufacture.
Back in 1910, the first flight motion simulator looked like a prop for a low budget silent film. It comprised two wooden half-barrels, in one of which the trainee pilot sat atop a platform attached to the other barrel, which was moved manually. No doubt this French invention was affordable, but the level of realism in its flight simulation is laughably low from a modern perspective.
From this humble beginning, flight simulators ‘took off’ thanks to the thrust of two world wars that propelled technological development at high speed. In the 1920s, Edwin Link produced a flight motion simulator with a pneumatic system adapted from technology used in his family’s pipe organ factory.
During WWII, hundreds of thousands of pilots were trained on Link simulators with pumps, valves and bellows that responded to the pilot’s controls and gave accurate readings on the cockpit instruments. At this time, the power of analogue computers to simulate the dynamics of flight was first explored.
In 1948, the first commercial airline simulator was built for Pan Am Airways. It didn’t move and provided no visual simulation of flight, but it recreated the appearance and behaviour of the cockpit and controls of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Fast-forward sixty years and by 2008, thanks to major advances in electronics, computing, materials and manufacturing, flight motion simulators were highly sophisticated machines.
But they all came with high price tags – from AUD150,000 to 30million – and required protection from the weather inside a building – a further expense. These costs exceeded the budget of most flight schools.
Meanwhile, SynFlyt Founder and Director Ross Maclennan had acquired extensive experience in electronics design and manufacturing, gained his pilot’s licence, and spent many years creating 3D animated training materials. Ross combined his interests and expertise to form a new ambition: to produce a motion simulator that would be accessible and affordable for all flight schools and trainees, through innovative design utilising the latest materials and technologies.
‘I knew the flight motion simulator should be housed in a compact sphere for efficiency. I tracked down several patent applications for spherical simulators – the earliest from 1964 – but all had failed to be realised, due to past technological limitations,’ Ross explains.
‘It took years of Computer Aided Design drafting to come up with the working design for a spherical simulator with three degrees of motion freedom, for which SynFlyt now has a patent pending. We also have proprietary training software.’
Synflyt’s innovations are multiple, enabling affordable, safe, convenient and immersive flight training with world-leading simulation quality. A major advantage is that SynFlyt’s weatherproof simulators can be located outdoors – a great option for flight schools with limited indoor space. SynFlyt’s business model is also innovative in offering flight schools zero cost placement and an ongoing share of profits, with full technical support and maintenance included.
SynFlyt’s design optimises both manufacturing efficiencies and the simulator’s performance, using composite materials to form smooth and seamless complex shapes that are lightweight but durable. For example, in the base structure, the one-piece fibreglass moulding incorporates pylons for the motion drives, forklift points and integrated mountings for bolt-down points.
‘We employ premium 3D plastic printing – a Fused Deposition Modelling type – to manufacture parts with the strength, integrity and longevity needed for a motion simulator. There are approximately one hundred 3D printed components in each SynFlyt simulator, ranging from controls to housings for electronic instrumentation,’ says Ross.
‘While 3D printing is slower than injection moulding, it bears none of the tooling costs and means we can build components as required rather than holding large inventories. The cost savings are enormous, especially when compared to purchasing aircraft components as many other simulator manufacturers do.’
Thanks to the freedom of 3D printing, SynFlyt’s spherical pod can be fitted with any general aviation cockpit, including single and multi-engine light aircraft, single-engine jets and gliders. The cockpit can be swapped within an aircraft type e.g. Cessna 172 can be easily changed to be a 182, 206 or 210 by changing the centre console which can be simply clipped in and out.
With the 210-degree screen displaying satellite imagery of the earth and computer-generated weather, plus the sensations of motion and control force feedback, the pilot is fully immersed in the experience, clocking up accredited training hours in complete safety. SynFlyt’s integration with the Internet allows remote, online access to review reports and recordings of the pilot’s performance and set new training exercises.
‘Demand for pilot training is growing rapidly internationally and SynFlyt is poised to meet that demand. It brings me enormous satisfaction to have overcome so many challenges and produced such a cost-effective and aesthetic flight simulator with premium, cutting-edge features, right here in Australia,’ says Ross.
‘I’m excited about demonstrating SynFlyt’s Innovation 21TM SFTD (Synthetic Flight Training Device) at the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition at Avalon Airport, from 28 February to 5 March 2017.’