Customer input key on CAE’s new lower-cost bizjet simulator

 - April 30, 2007, 6:15 AM

Canadian-owned aircraft simulator and training operator CAE has unveiled the latest addition to its line of flight simulators. The company’s new 5000-series simulators are designed to support single-aisle jetliners such as the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, business jets and the VLJ market. The new series was created entirely from the ground up and was influenced heavily by recommendations from a customer input board consisting of pilots, instructors, simulator operators and technicians, according to CAE’s group president for simulation products and military training and services, Marc Parent.

“We went about using it like a ‘Skunk-works’ approach,” Parent said, referring to Lockheed’s legendary high-technology incubator. “We basically took some of the best and brightest out of CAE, and we literally segregated them in another building.” Once isolated, the 5000-series creators were told they didn’t have to use any of the tools, processes or prior history of CAE to design the new simulators. Their only mandate was to use the “input that we have on the high-level customer requirement.”

The end result, according to CAE, is a lower-cost simulator series that doesn’t compromise on quality. “One of the key customer inputs is, ‘Low cost doesn’t mean low fidelity.’ We still simulate the full hardware, the full systems behavior at the detail level, so there’s no compromise made on the fidelity of product,” said Parent.

One way the cost was kept down was to standardize all non-simulated areas in the units as much as possible, with no provision for customization in terms of avionics or other equipment modifications. According to CAE, the new 5200 simulator is targeted to exceed level-B recurrent training requirements, while the 5400 exceeds level-D training requirements. Customers who eventually choose to upgrade a 5200 will be able to do so with a retrofit pack.

CAE says it took the suggestions of its clients seriously and incorporated them into the final design. “One of the inputs that the customers gave us is very interesting; they told us, ‘Don’t look at this as a simulator. Look at this as a classroom because that’s what it is. That’s what we use it as,’” said Parent. “So with that input in mind, we went out and spent a lot of effort to look at the designing, the aesthetics, the living quarters and the ergonomics of the instructor and observer stations so that the non-simulated area is really designed as an office.”

New Inside and Out

With a nod to consideration for the simulator instructors and operators, the ‘behind the scenes’ area in the device was enlarged and given better lighting and air conditioning. While most flight simulators have all the detail attention paid to the interior and the actual cockpit area, CAE says its customer input board provided some surprising results. “I thought people couldn’t care less about what [the simulators] looked like on the outside, but the customers quickly pointed out that I was mistaken,” Parent said. CAE learned that many of its simulators do double duty, not only as a training tool but also as a showpiece. Some customers even place them in areas surrounded with many windows, where they can be observed in operation.

To that end, CAE hired designers to create sleek, aesthetically pleasing shapes for their new simulators, with the end result resembling nothing so much as a Star Trek shuttlecraft. Based on the new design, CAE has also rebranded its full flight simulators into the 7000 series, incorporating technology borrowed from its new lower-cost sibling.

Launch customers for the 5000 series include Lufthansa and RyanAir. CAE says the new simulators will be deployed early next year, with the first two units going to its own training center. The company expects the 5000 series will also be tapped for the joint partnership with Embraer for pilot training on the new Phenom 100 and 300 jets.