Flight simulators have witnessed a new wave of technology ushered by AR and VR. How are institutions readying themselves for its use, and which major factors govern the simulator market?
Many of us, when asked when we were young about what we wanted to be when we grew up, would have said ‘Pilot’, at one point or another. Even though only a miniscule percentage of that crowd go on to actually work towards that dream. Man has always had a fantasy of soaring through the skies, with his flight in his control. Admittedly, the technology has not become so evolved that man can fly whenever he wants, how he wants and wherever he wants, but a pilot manning a plane is also pretty close, wouldn’t you agree?
So how can you learn to control a plane or a helicopter, before applying it in practicality, of course? The simple answer – flight simulator. It is a system that lets the user experience what it is like to pilot a particular type of airplane. Flight simulators are mainly used for pilot training. They replicate the equations that make an airplane fly and the aircraft’s response to flight control applications & external factors. External factors refer to turbulence, air density, wind shear, precipitation, cloud, and so on. Besides pilot training, they are also used extensively in the design & development of airplanes. Flight simulators are ideal for organizations engaged in aircraft crew training.
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, which is a series of training programs, packaged as video games, is a product that might be very familiar to most gamers. It is one of the longest running and most popular flight simulator program available globally. The game has attracted a sizeable following owing to its depiction of flight controls and its ‘gameplay’. Giant firms such as Lockheed Martin have also had partnerships with this program. The ‘game’ has brought flight procedures and controls to living rooms, thus enhancing the appeal of flight simulators across the globe.
Importance of Simulation Technologies
Flight simulators have an important role in pilot training as well as in sustaining pilot currency. Admittedly, the early simulators would leave a lot to be desired in terms of execution and the final output, but technology has come very far, so far that the lines have blurred between real environment and simulated ones. Simulation technologies determine the safety levels of modern general, public, and commercial aviation. Furthermore, these technologies are applied in aircraft design studies and in the investigations of air accidents.
The use of simulators is an economical approach towards pilot training. Inadequate financial resources coupled with the complexities of aircraft systems & training processes makes the adoption of flight simulators a cost-effective option. Unlike, actual aircrafts, expert aircraft simulators offer training at extremely low costs. Nobody would really want to train a pilot on an actual, real-life aircraft!
Another key benefit of the same is the possibility of interconnecting simulators into clusters using the DIS (Distributed Interactive Simulation) technology. This helps simulate joint flight missions & operations that are applied widely in the military. Professional flight simulators include components, such as cabin, control system, instrument panels, visualization system, system software, instructor's workplace, electrical equipment & installation, and computer technology. Improvements in visual systems & projection technologies have resulted in the development of “fully immersive” training environments.
Flight Simulators - A Booming Market?
Most veteran pilots agree to the fact that flight simulators are a great training tool. After all, the U.S. Air Force’s Pilot Training Next program claims to have turned out qualified pilots in half the time it used to take earlier, through the use of simulators. It is no wonder that the demand for these tools has rapidly grown since their introduction. Some of the major factors driving flight simulator market growth are:
There has been a huge growth in demand for pilots across the industry, with growing air traffic making it necessary to have a high number of pilots on board, thus directly influencing the market.
Focus on skill competency, safety of operations, and situational awareness in pilot training programs will further augment industry growth.
Cost-effectiveness is one of the main reasons that aviation institutions prefer the use of flight simulators, as mistakes made during simulation do not cause any monetary or inventory losses.
These systems have increasingly become more efficient, thus effectively simulating real-world aviation scenarios, and also help in saving fuel, as there is no real flight involved. This is a plus point for both small as well as large aviation players.
Military and defense sector has seen a huge growth across countries in the past few years, with different regions embroiled in tensions. This has made flight training necessary in the forces, which again acts as a market driver.
Not everything about flight simulators is great, however. The system is associated with high manufacturing costs, along with maintenance and operational costs, which can potentially hinder market growth. Even though flight simulator has proved to be very efficient for future pilot training programs, the presence of limited physical environments as well as behavioral fidelity that is associated with simulators can be expected to stunt market growth.
In the News
Key companies operating in the global market are Canadian Aviation Electronics Ltd., Cassidian, Alenia Aeronautica S. p. A., The Boeing Company, Fidelity Technologies Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions Inc. The major developments that have occurred in the past few years in the industry include:
In October 2019, CAE and easyJet announced a partnership, wherein they inaugurated a new training center in Milan, the CAE Milan training center, which is expected to train 2000 pilots annually. With this development, easyJet becomes the first airline organization that would train its pilots on CAE’s 600XR FTD.
In August 2019, the Department of Defense announced that Rockwell Collins Simulation & Training Solutions had been awarded a USD 40.2 Million contract for the E-8 Aircrew Training Device sustainment. The contract outlines training systems support & contractor logistics support for the JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems) simulators. There have been no specifications regarding the delivery date or quantity.
In January 2019, Fidelity Technologies announced that they were delivering UH-60A flight training devices to the Afghanistan Air Force Special Mission Wing.
In-depth report on global flight simulator market by Grand View Research:
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