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Why is simulation used? | Aerospace

Updated: Mar 12

November 7, 2022 | By Commander Vimal Nagpal (retired), Naval Aviation Veteran and Aerospace Industry Expert at Gravitas Consulting | Aerospace


Today, simulators have become a critical part of many industries and businesses. The first use of simulators goes back to World War II when the simulation was used to study the behavior of neutrons as a cost-effective alternative to hit-and-trial experimentation.

Two mathematicians, Jon Von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam suggested using the Roulette wheel to simulate neutrons to study their behavior. The technique was successful. The use of simulation processes to study the behavior and performance of an actual or theoretical system found many applications in business and industry. Simulators began to be used to solve real-world problems by offering clear insights into complex systems safely, cost-effectively, and efficiently.

The mathematical modeling and simulation suggested to solve and predict the behavior became very popular and found application across the industry.

The mechanisms that control the behavior of a system and predict or forecast the behavior or the future state of the system can be studied using simulation.

More importantly, a change can be made to control the behavior of the system in the future.

Modeling and simulation technologies have played an important role in transforming many industries.

In the mining sector, simulators are used to train operators, mine design, and operations. Simulation is used to study the flow of fluids through a porous medium and the pipeline network and other challenges faced by the oil and natural gas industry. In the agriculture sector, simulation is used to study soil erosion and crop yield. In healthcare, simulators are used to teach skills and prepare for emergencies. In defense, simulation is heavily used in shipbuilding, guns, helicopters, and fire drills. In the entertainment and gaming industry simulation is used in CGI graphics. There is hardly any industry or field in which simulators are not used nowadays. In the following paragraphs, we will talk about the aviation sector only.

Flight Simulators

The flight simulator is a device that artificially re-creates aircraft flight and the environment in which it flies. It creates a synthetic environment that is like the real-world scenario

Flight simulators create a synthetic environment that is like a real-world scenario so that pilot hones his skills to emerge as a well-trained pilot. The pilots can be trained in varied environments and practically learn how the flight controls and systems of the aircraft react to external factors like air density, turbulence, wind, clouds, etc.

Almost every six months or so pilots go for flight simulator training to refresh their technical and non-technical skills. The training is required as per the standards of the national regulator but also those of the airline.

This simulator training helps not only student pilots but also experienced pilots as they feel less anxious in the air. They develop better muscle memory with the controls after practicing in a simulated environment. The level of accuracy of the simulated environment is very high.

The simulators can replicate the size, position, and functionality of a wide variety of instruments in a specific model of an aircraft.

Effectiveness of Simulator Training

Simulator training is a critical component of pilot training programs. The training is effective in ensuring the safety of the pilot and the plane.

For pilots, flight simulation technology has two major advantages. First, the pilot achieves all training objectives using simulators.
Second, the pilot generates real-world experience through familiarity gained by handling simulated dangerous conditions repeatedly till the pilot becomes fully acclimatized and confident.
The student or trainee pilots can sharpen their skills at their own pace and ease. They can rectify their mistakes before stepping into the aircraft.

The instructor can evaluate the trainers and give detailed feedback on their performance at every stage.

Simulator training increases effectiveness and significantly reduces training costs.

Live training is more expensive in terms of losing an aircraft or worse losing a life. Simulation is a solution to address the rising costs and limited budget. Trainee pilots become qualified in less than half the time it takes on the actual aircraft.

Benefits of Simulators

1. Realistic Feel

The use of the Flight Simulator Training Device allows the pilot to experience more realistic and effective training, which includes emergency and procedure training with surprise in the cockpit, and practice troubleshooting procedure in a safe environment. This allows learning from the errors made.

2. Economic Benefits

Significant savings are made when compared to actual flying viz-a-viz simulator flying. The training is more cost-effective in a simulator.

The actual flying hours saved help in reducing emissions, carbon footprint, and noise pollution.

3. Safety

Training flights carry a high degree of risk compared to flights simulated in a simulator. Many accidents happen in training flights due to hydraulic power failure, engine failure, or any technical fault causing injuries that can be serious or even fatal.

The use of simulators reduces not only the risk of flight training accidents but also provides an opportunity for excellent training without risking the safety of the pilots.

In this safe environment, a trainee can make mistakes and errors, learn from them, perform, and repeat normal or abnormal procedures /emergencies. A flight crash can be affordable in a simulator but not in a real scenario.

4. Recurrent Training

Pilots need to undergo recurrent training. A simulator is the best platform to undertake recurrent training given the benefits. An operator Proficiency Check (OPC) can be performed on an FSTD. Generally, a six-axis FFS motion system is required for Proficiency Checks.

5. Instrument Rating Training

The simulators are well recognized for instrument rating given the advantage of not compromising safety. Using simulators to rate instruments can be performed independently of real weather conditions and has emerged as a safe and well-established platform.

6. Operations-Specific Training

Certain high-risk operations-specific roles like offshore transportation, search and rescue, and emergency medical services demand high skills. Pilots can be trained without exposure to the risk involved in a real scenario generated. This can be used for initial as well as recurrent training specific to operations.

7. Availability and Serviceability

The use of simulators for pilots, cabin crew, and technicians has tremendous benefits.

Pilots can save the airframe life of an aircraft by extensive use of flying in a simulator. Cabin crew can be safely trained in batches for imparting emergency procedures without flying in actual aircraft thus saving fuel and airframe hours.

Aircraft technicians can run through procedures without touching an aircraft. They can practice installations, removals, and fault checks in a safe environment where the learning process can be much more thorough and detailed.

Emergency landing or take-off scenarios can be replicated using simulation in both training and analysis. Undertaking this training and flying in a simulator leads to more availability and serviceability of the actual aircraft.

Types of simulation training devices

There are different types of Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTDs).

The Federal Aviation Administration has generally categorized them as full flight simulators, flight training devices, and aviation training devices.

All pilots irrespective of their experience always consider the benefits of regular training sessions on simulators to maintain and enhance their skills, knowledge, and decision-making.

Full Flight Simulators (FFSs)

Full Flight Simulators (FFSs) are more capable and expensive and have motion and visual capabilities. FFSs are sub-categorized into four levels, A through D. Level D is a six-axis or degrees of motion and realistic cockpit replica with sound. It is most sophisticated with most of the requirements which conform to aircraft validation data, flight control characteristics, and ground handling characteristics to represent specific make, model, and series of the aircraft. It is a "type" specific platform that pilots use to get type ratings.

Flight Training Devices (FTDs)

Flight training devices or FTDs are devices that represent a specific aircraft configuration. These may have enclosed cockpits and realistic visuals but most often do not have motion capabilities. They are used to provide training for the preparation of commercial and airline pilot certifications. Depending upon the FTD's qualification level, simulators may include an enclosed cockpit and realistic visual references. FTDs are very popular with aviation-oriented universities and colleges. The airline industry also uses these devices extensively to train new hires.

FTDs are sub-categorized into Levels 4 through 7. Levels 4, 5, and 6 apply to fixed-wing devices, while Level 7 applies to helicopters. Sometimes pilots don't have the means or access to simulators. In these scenarios, pilots use desktop software available on desktop computers in classroom training.

Future of Simulators

Simulator training has become a culture in aviation training. Today, aviation training is considered inadequate and incomplete without a simulator. Simulators are widely accepted and utilized all over the world. As the technology evolves, the use of simulation technology will further grow in aviation, design, and development to provide greater realism.

About the author

Commander Vimal Nagpal is a retired Naval veteran with over 35 years of experience in Aerospace, Business Development, Operations, and Leadership.

Vimal believes in leading from the front and leveraging his strong acumen for developing teams for business growth. During his career in the Navy and the commercial sector, Vimal has set up and led new organizations, establishing strategic plans, procedures, and operations successfully. Vimal is the Aerospace Industry expert at Gravitas Consulting.

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