A training ‘revolution’ is on sim maker’s mind

 - October 24, 2006, 9:14 AM

You might not be familiar with the name Mechtronix Systems, but representatives from the Montreal company nonetheless predict you may soon find yourself strapping into one of their full-flight simulators for recurrent or transition training–and saving a significant amount of money in the process.

Senior officials for the Canadian simulator maker are reporting good progress toward the company’s goal of pioneering new technologies that they say will blend the use of off-the-shelf machine robotics and electronics with proprietary software to create a new generation of high-fidelity full-flight simulators at “significantly lower prices” than the industry is used to paying.

“This in turn will lead to much lower costs related to recurrent simulator training for aircraft operators,” said Xavier Herve, Mechtronix president, who is predicting a sea change in the way simulators are produced and used in the future.

The company earlier this year delivered its first level-D full-flight simulator, based on the Boeing 737-800, to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China in Guanghan. The Flight University has since ordered a second level-D 737-800 simulator and a level-B Cessna Citation CJ1 simulator for initial jet training. Plans are in the works for more simulators for other customers spanning a variety of jet and turboprop aircraft models, if Mechtronix can convince buyers that its devices offer a better way to train.

The full-flight simulators delivered to China are just the latest in a long list of accomplishments for Mechtronix, but until now the company generally has been content to operate behind the scenes. For example, Mechtronix assisted fractional operator Flight Options in developing an in-house Beechjet flight training device, and has developed sims for a number of European flight training centers and regional airlines and U.S. flight training school Embry-Riddle.

Taking Center Stage

Mechtronix next plans to develop a line of level-B full-flight simulators as part of its non-zero flight time training initiative. By “non-zero,” Herve explained, the company means that pilots would still need a certain amount of time in a real airplane for transition training. More expensive level-D simulators from FlightSafety International and others allow 100 percent of transition training to take place in the sim. Herve said the lower-cost level-B devices will allow operators to save money by completing certain training requirements in a less-sophisticated and less-costly simulator. It’s an idea he predicts will catch on with other simulator makers as well.

“Only a decade ago, the classic way to make a simulator was to create a motion system and visuals, and then integrate both with OEM avionics boxes,” Herve explained. “That business model is changing, and we’re an example of how it is changing.”

Traditionally, only very large companies made full-flight simulators, Herve said. But today, Mechtronix is a company of just 150 people using off-the shelf motion bases and visual systems but not costly and complicated OEM avionics boxes. “We integrate the visuals with the motion system, and the value that we add is in making the cockpit ourselves. We don’t integrate parts and boxes; we replicate the parts and boxes.”

For example, in the coming generation of simulators from Mechtronix, the flight management system (FMS) hardware would be created in house, but the software code running on it would come directly from the avionics manufacturer. This will ensure that the FMS functions precisely as it does in the real airplane, but Mechtronix won’t have to buy  pair of FMSs (or three FMSs, depending on the airplane) for each simulator it builds.

By combining lower-fidelity motion systems with commercial off-the-shelf computer visuals and avionics re-created in the Mechtronix lab instead of shipped from the avionics maker, Herve said he believes Mechtronix can shave a significant amount of money from what it would otherwise cost to purchase and then operate a full-flight simulator.

According to Herve, the company’s latest Ascent FFS X simulators can reduce overall cost of ownership “through lower acquisition price, better reliability and less required maintenance.” The FFS X models have been manufactured and tested, he said, to provide training in full compliance with regulations under FAA, JAA and ICAO. Each model employs “intelligent machine” technology, allowing the company to produce sophisticated simulators for less money than other simulator manufacturers traditionally have, he claimed.

Some may remember Mech-tronix as the company Eclipse Aviation originally named to develop a level-7 flight training device for its 500 very light jet (VLJ). The original idea was for a partnership between Eclipse and UND Aerospace to perform Eclipse 500 recurrent training.

Apparently, after some initial skepticism in the aviation community about whether the Eclipse plan for pilot training was adequate, the would-be VLJ maker announced a partnership with United Airlines instead.

Under the new plan, rather than handling training entirely in-house as originally envisioned, Eclipse has turned to United Flight Training Center (UFTC) in Denver–which in turn has entered into an agreement with Boeing-owned Alteon to provide the instructor pilots for the program. Training will take place at UFTC conforming to a curriculum co-developed by United and Eclipse and using full-motion simulators but not Mechtronix devices.