The “richest” application I’ve ever seen! A full-motion flight simulator for an Embraer 190

Ok, ok – this article is not about Adobe technology or AJax or any other recently discussed RIA technology … but it is about a VERY engaging and immersive user interface. 🙂

I recently was asked to join a sales call at a major airline training center where pilot recurrent training takes place. In the room were a bunch of IT folks that were evaluating various technologies for pilot scheduling, offline pilot testing, etc. Also in the room was a flight instructor representing the end users. His job is to put pilots through the paces of dealing with in-flight emergencies in a simulator so they do not become complacent. After finishing the technical discussions, I may have accidentally mentioned that I was a private pilot and that I had a couple of hours to kill before I needed to head back to the office. Amazingly, my powers of suggestion worked and the instructor asked if I wanted to go play in the simulators! I said, “Duh! Of course!”

I’ve played with just about every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator and XPlane since the late 80’s and I’ve flown about 16 types of real single engine planes, but nothing could have prepared me for how incredible this was going to be.

(I know there are a few airline pilots reading this now that are rolling their eyes but for us private pilots flying single engine prop planes, this is HUGE!)

The simulator was for an Embraer 190 passenger jet. This is not a Windows PC hooked to a big monitor with a joystick. This is a multi-million dollar, fully loaded, fully functional cockpit connected to a sophisticated network of computers and motion devices that simulates almost every aspect of flying the jet. The first picture below shows a CAE Embraer 190 simulator identical to the one I flew. The second picture shows the pilot and co-pilot in the front seats and the instructor/examiner in the back seat running the show. The third picture is a sample of the level of graphics these devices are capable of.

The level of detail was incredible – far beyond what I anticipated. I was surrounded by seamless near photo-realistic scenery visible through every window. Also, the sounds and motion devices really completed the illusion. After the instructor walked me through the engine startup procedure, I started my taxi to the active runway at JFK. I was immediately amazed because I could feel the bumps on the taxiway. It felt like we were actually moving. When I added power, I could feel the acceleration (the entire sim tilts but from inside, it feels like natural G-forces). Once we were cleared for takeoff, I gave it full throttle and in a few seconds, we were flying. The Embraer 190 has a heads up display which definitely added to the cool-factor.

So.. now some pilot stuff… This ain’t no 4 seater prop plane – it felt “huge”. The response was sluggish and control inputs had to be more deliberate than I was used to but it actually felt fairly natural. The instructor never touched the controls but gave me step by step instructions on the first landing which turned out nicely. I then went around for a second landing and asked him to turn up the winds. With a couple of mouse clicks, he gave me a 25kt wind right across the runway. As I got on final approach, I at first wanted to side-slip which is the normal way to compensate for a cross wind in small planes…but in a large plane like this, side slips don’t work because the wing tip will hit the ground. I had to hold a slight crab until I was just just about to touch down. The landing was fairly good! Then I guess he thought I was getting cocky and told me that he was going to do a V1 engine failure during the next takeoff. V1 is the speed at which the airplane is moving fast enough down the runway that if an engine failed, the pilot can maintain control of the plane with one engine running and must continue the takeoff rather than risk an abort takeoff. When the plane is below V1, there is not enough air moving across the rudder to compensate for the torque created by having only one engine running so the remaining engine has to be immediately shut off before it pulls the plane off the side of the runway! (there are actually other factors in determining V1 too – see VSpeeds). A cutoff right at V1 is a bit tricky because there is barely enough control authority to keep the plane moving the right direction. The second he failed the engine, I could feel the immediate yaw but rather than trying to hold the plane on the centerline (which was nearly impossible anyways), I just tried to coax it off the ground without running off the side of the runway. I did get it in the air without hitting anything which impressed me and the instructor! I decided to quit these challenges while I was ahead.

Afterwards, the instructor started showing me more features of the simulator itself..such as the ability to create thunderstorms, turbulence, other airline traffic, near collisions, etc. This is amazing technology. I spent a total of 1.5 hours at the controls and loved every second of it. It is proudly entered into my logbook.

Below is a 2 minute movie shot from the inside of a 737/800 simulator built by the same company, CAE. It is not the same model, but it will give you a good sense of the realism. Be sure to watch the landing. Note the jolt as the wheels hit and the sounds. Rich huh???

So, if I’m ever on an Embraer 190 and the pilots become incapacitated, I’m ready to save the day! 🙂

~ by Greg on March 19, 2008.

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