Simulation Technologies

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VIDEO GAMES GET SERIOUS:
WHY MORE TIME IN THE SIMULATOR EQUALS BETTER TRAINING

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The steady hum of the fighter jet loudly echoes in your helmet. As you soar at 30,000 feet, a voice in your headset tells you it’s time to land.

Sandstorms are rolling in from the west, and you will be forced to recover in low-visibility conditions. This is a one-seat plane and you are on your own.

You position the aircraft on final bearing aligned with the landing area and rely on the flight control system to assist in keeping you on course.

… 500, 400, 300 feet.

“You’re slightly right of course. Just a little low,” the voice says.

As you approach the ground, you ease the stick aft.

“30 knots of wind. A little power on.”

Touch down.

You hear the screech of the rubber as the tires skid across the runaway. In a matter of seconds, you have come from flying 200 knots to a complete halt.

The sand clears in front of you, and you can feel your heart pounding. A small door to your left opens and light floods in.

Only then do you remember: this was a simulation.

This May, Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base, the epicenter for U.S. fighter pilot training, welcomed its first class of F-35 Lightning II pilots. This milestone carved a path for thousands of future pilots to undergo simulations like this – and many more – in their training to become professional military pilots.

However, if you think that most pilot training takes place in the aircraft itself, think again.

“We are using game engines and the actual plane’s software and controls to create a simulated environment that feels and looks real,” said Mike Luntz, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Training System director. “Think about the F-35 simulator as a snow globe with the pilot in the middle. The pilot is completely immersed in a virtual world.”

Today, virtual training systems are so advanced that more than 70 percent of F-35 pilot training is completed in a simulated environment before the pilot climbs into a cockpit. Compare that to F-16 training where pilots fly 40 percent of their qualification events in simulators.

This trend translates to the commercial world as well. Airline pilots are able to complete all of their training in highly realistic simulators – meaning their first takeoff doesn't have to feel like their first flight.

So, how can simulation get the job done? Read on to learn how these seriously amped up video games are able to stand up to the test.

THE SIMULATIONS ARE JUST AS REAL

“Pilots often share that the F-35 simulator is so realistic they forget they aren’t actually flying,” said Luntz. “The simulator uses the same software as the jets themselves, and that makes a major difference for training realism and effectiveness.”

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Using the real aircraft software changes the game for on-target training since simulators developed before the F-35 mimic jet behavior using emulators, which sometimes get out of sync as aircraft software is updated. Another factor that has amped up F-35 training realism is the visual display. Incredibly high-fidelity visuals on a dome surrounding the pilot enrich the training experience.

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THE SCENARIOS ARE EVEN MORE CHALLENGING

Because of the advanced capabilities of the F-35, it is not possible to challenge pilots in the live environment alone given limited range space and aircraft available to act as opposition.

“In the simulator, we can turn on all of the bells and whistles to provide pilots with the range of training required to maximize the F-35,” Luntz said. “We can put the pilots in extremely challenging missions so that they can react more quickly and confidently during the missions they are asked to take on to defend freedom all around the world.”

The simulator’s increased realism also opens the door to conduct more training exercises on the ground. For the first time, F-35 pilots train for air refueling and shipboard landings in the simulator instead of in the more risky, costly live environment.
 

SIMULATION SAVES MONEY; TRAINING SAVES LIVES

Past fighter aircraft have a two-seat version for pilot training. Not so for the F-35. Because the F-35 pushes technology forward, all F-35s are one-seaters, generating tremendous cost savings. This makes it critical for pilots to be prepared for their first flight and every flight. Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, completed her first F-35 training flight on May 5 following 14 virtual training missions at the F-35 Academic Training Center located at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

“It wasn't until I was taxiing to the runway that it really struck me that I was on my own in the jet,” Mau said. “I had a chase aircraft, but there was no weapons system officer or instructor pilot sitting behind me, and no one in my ear like in simulators.”

“The training missions in the simulator prepare you very well, so you're ready for that flight,” Mau said.

The simulators provide a safe environment to make mistakes so that pilots are well equipped to take on their missions and respond to emergency situations.
 

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PILOTS ARE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED

Today’s modern commercial simulators enable zero flight-time training in certain circumstances – for example, if pilots have the right previous experience with a certain aircraft category. Advanced visual systems, aural cueing and state-of-the-art motion platforms bring the simulation to a higher level of fidelity, allowing a significant reduction in or complete elimination of real aircraft training time.

“By improving the quality of the training, the pilot achieves the required proficiency level in a shorter period through avoiding unnecessary tasks; the effect is a reduction in time and cost, but the most important outcome is we are better able to prepare pilots for the unexpected,” said René Veerman of Lockheed Martin Commercial Flight Training.
 

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THE MISSIONS CAN BE CUSTOMIZED

Today’s commercial aircraft have high levels of automation that require a vastly different way of learning compared to aircraft of 20 years ago. A good example is the way we learn to operate our new smartphones: have you ever used a manual? You learned by simply starting to operate it and exploring all of the functions.

“New technologies that can be spread across modern communication platforms enable the implementation of fully integrated learning systems that span from the smartphone to the Full Motion Simulator,” said Veerman. “This seamless learning, backed by an intelligent learning management system, results in the ability to personalize the course syllabus instantly and optimize the results.”

Fully integrated learning systems can be instantly updated, if needed, based on recent occurrences in the industry. This is vital to ensure pilots are optimally prepared to carry passengers in a safe manner under all circumstances.
 

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VIDEO GAME TRAINING IS EVEN CROSSING INDUSTRIES

In manufacturing, physical prototypes can be expensive, time consuming to build and difficult to change. Virtual prototyping has vastly reduced the need for physical prototypes across a wide range of manufacturing industries. Today, virtual prototyping is expanding into virtual reality with the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL), where engineering designs can be proved out in virtual worlds before they are physically produced.  

“You start by creating your virtual world in a 3-D game engine, put on a virtual reality headset, add full body motion tracking and haptic feedback, and your virtual world starts to look and feel real,” said Darin Bolthouse, CHIL manager. “Now you’re a virtual avatar within your own personal holodeck capable of assembling a virtual spacecraft or aircraft with virtual tools.”