Essex Gliding Club – built an advanced glider simulator.

Intro (by John Murtari)

At the Essex Gliding Club, Essex, England, it helps to have an experienced engineer as a member.  Allen Cherry helped the Club build a commercial quality simulator that includes 5 projectors for surround video, a complete cockpit and controls, and magnetic actuators that simulate the vibration of an impending stall, cable release and take-off and landing vibration.  Another unique feature is the use of ‘touch screens’ to eliminate the need for keyboard and mouse entry as a requirement for Condor. They are willing to share their knowledge/drawings with any other clubs that are interested.

This article gives you a tour of the project using material they produced.  Often ignored, it’s also very important to have a manual detailing simulator procedures.  Often skipped, this is critical to good instruction.

P.S. You’re welcome to visit Essex and Allen promises you a ‘nice cup of tea!’

Our Simulator (by Allen Cherry)

John has been kind enough to ask me to give an overview of our simulator – it has been a ‘work in progress’ for about 18 months, and like most projects, shows no signs of completion as there are many ideas for its improvement.

This was an enormous task for a relatively small club (around 40 members), and our failure to source a ‘crashed’ two-seater fuselage significantly increased the workload as we had to build a fuselage with all the control mechanisms. Fortunately, one of our members, Dave Jones, an outstanding engineer, managed this aspect of the project and although 84 years young, built the fuselage virtually by himself. The PowerPoint presentation Simulator Design and Construction is a nice overview of the project, with visuals of the simulator room and projection environment.

We have incorporated many unique design aspects into the system – the use of ‘MagnetoPots’ instead of ‘rotary’ potentiometers / encoders has proved to be a significant design advantage – all the controls in a glider end up in a linear movement, so why not use ‘linear’ potentiometers? These are available in a variety of lengths, and so the system can make use of the full resolution rather than just a few degrees of a rotary pot.

One of the main objectives was to make the use of the simulator as ‘intuitive’ as possible – and although ‘Condor’ is a superb piece of software for simulating gliding, the interface is not really easy to use for a first-time user. Also, its dependence on a keyboard and mouse is not really compatible with the glider cockpit environment.

We have overcome this by using a ‘touch screen’ in the front and rear cockpits, and devising an intuitive menu on the screen which allows to user to make a wide variety of options for their flight, or to take the option for the ‘lessons’ incorporated in the ‘Condor’ simulator.

Once the selections have been made, the system automatically launches ‘Condor’ with the options required, and the ‘Touch Screen’ becomes the instrument panel, but also has touch-buttons to assist during the flight and training situation.

I am happy to assist with more detailed descriptions and software / hardware configuration. Hopefully, this can help prevent others going down the blind alleys that I have already been down!

We have also incorporated ‘force feedback’, so the joystick gets stiffer to move as the speed increases, helping to add to the realism.

This inclusion of the vibration into the fuselage to simulate the ground run, pre-stall buffet and ‘jolt’ on releasing the winch launch has also made a very significant difference to the realism.

Please have a look at the Simulator Presentation which covers some of aspects, and also the size – which was a major design constraint.

As with all these projects, further developments are in the pipeline – better visualization of the airfields and wind directions, sub-menus for adjusting the thermals, cloud base, turbulence etc. etc.

Proper use of a simulator for instruction (by John Murtari)

This is critical!  As a former USAF instructor I know we required our students to be full-suited before entering the simulator:  flight suit, helmet, parachute, and oxygen mask.  The training environment should ‘feel’ the same as the real thing.

Another very large Club, Cambridge Gliding Centre, Bedfordshire, England, have built their own system based on ‘Prepar3d’, again a 5 screen projector-based visual display.

Peter Joslin, the author of their Simulator Operations Manual is a commercial airline pilot, and a simulator training captain for his airline, so again, he had a background of manuals on which to base his work.  It’s an excellent manual, and makes the aspect of ‘primacy’ very clear.

About Allen Cherry 1 Article
I had my first flight in a glider at the age of 8, and the memory of that flight has never faded. So, when I retired at the age of 65, I looked around for gliding clubs and found 'Essex Gliding Club' were giving a 'Fixed Price to Solo' offer, so I paid the money, and bought my glider even before I had actually 'gone solo'. My two-seater 'Marianne' (Centrair C201A) is now well used by Essex Gliding Club for cross-country training, and gives me a lot of enjoyment. I have been using my 40+ years of electronics, programming and engineering experience to help the club with many projects - the simulator being just one. Happy to help anyone else, so you can learn from my mistakes!

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting article. Our club had thought of buying a commercial simulator compatible with Condor 2 (the Mach 0.1 simulator costs about $2000). How much were your costs in equipment?

    • Hi Steve,
      The whole project has cost in the region of £10,000 – the main items being the projectors and the computer / video card. I am sure that those costs can be reduced significantly using the knowledge that we now possess. Interestingly, the projector costs were high because we had to have ‘short throw’ projectors because of the limited space – normal projectors would be cheaper if the room was bigger, allowing the appropriate screen size. I would also want to investigate different aspect ratios for the screens – we had to use 4:3 which limited the resolution available.
      One of the main problems in the 5 projector set-up is that Condor will only use 1 video card, and so there are a very limited number of cards available with the requisite number of video outputs giving the same connection and multiple screen use.
      Hope this helps,

      Best wishes,

      Allen

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