A Brief History of Aircraft Flight Simulation.



Early History
Instrument Flight Training.
World War II.
Electronic Flight Simulation.
Digital Simulators.
Some Simulator Pictures.
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Early History

The importance of training has been realised since the inception of manned flight. From the early days of gliding it was usual for "pilots" to sit in the glider, which was exposed to a strong facing wind and "feel" the controls by keeping the wings in a horizontal position. Thus, even before the glider flew, the pilot had some experience of the lateral controls.

The fliers of the first powered aeroplanes learnt by proceeding through a graded sequence of exercises on real aircraft. After passenger flights, a student would perform taxiing, where a low powered machine is driven along the ground enabling rudder control to be practised. He would then graduate to a higher powered machine and would first make short hops using elevator control. After longer hops he would eventually achieve flight. A variation of this method, known as the "penguin system", in which a reduced wingspan, landborne aeroplane was used, was developed during World War I. In this machine the student pilot could learn the feel of the controls while proceeding along the ground. This method was used at the French Ecole de Combat with a cut-down Bleriot monoplane, but was considered as early as 1910.

Other early devices attempted to achieve the same effect, especially for the testing of new aircraft prototypes, by using aircraft moving at speed supported by balloons, overhead gantries or railway bogies. Related to these ideas were the first proposals for truly ground-based trainers which were, in effect, aircraft tethered to the ground, but capable of responding to aerodynamic forces. One such device was the Sanders Teacher.

The Teacher was constructed from components which could in fact be used to build an actual flying machine, and was really an aircraft mounted on a universal joint in an exposed position and facing into the prevailing wind. In this way it was able to respond in attitude to the aileron, elevator and rudder controls as would an actual aeroplane of the type. Unfortunately, as was the case with many of these early devices, it was not a success, probably because of the unreliability of the wind. A similar device was that constructed by Eardley Billing, the brother of Noel Pemberton Billing, at about the same time, and was available for use at Brooklands Aerodrome.

Also around this period was made one of the first truly synthetic flight training devices. This photograph was published in 1910, as can be seen, it consisted of two half-sections of a barrel mounted and moved manually to represent the pitch and roll of an aeroplane. The prospective pilot sat in the top section of this device and was required to line up a reference bar with the horizon.

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