Linked PCs power new low-cost jet training device

 - October 11, 2007, 11:11 AM

“What makes our system unique is that it is based on a simple personal computer network that ties all of the components together,” Mike Altman, CEO of Mather, Calif.-based Precision Flight Controls, told AIN. “That allows it to be a cost-effective jet trainer. Depending on the exact configuration, the price ranges from about $125,000 to $150,000.”

The A.A.T.S. (Advanced Aviation Training System) Jet Cockpit Training device features glass cockpit displays. “The A.A.T.S. is a great platform for transition training, crew resource management, glass technology, autopilot, electronic flight information system and flight management system training and much more,” Altman said.

PFC has been manufacturing hardware for the flight-training industry for more than 11 years. It first entered the market with a low-cost PC-based IFR desktop system using aircraft-like hardware and proprietary control dampers for control feel. Since then, the company has refined its control system to what it describes as “a realistic, passive control loaded feel without the high cost and maintenance of electronics or hydraulics.”

The A.A.T.S. cockpit is a generic jet modeled on the Boeing 737-700/800 with independent controls for the pilot and copilot. Both pilots have a primary system with selectable flight director cueing, either V or cross bar. The dual CDU/FMS is a replication of the Boeing Smith CDUs. These operate independently and can be programmed in flight or on the ground. The keypads are backlit for easy use in a darkened cockpit.

The backlit center console is equipped with a full avionics package and appropriate controls. The throttle quadrant includes spoilers, reversers, autothrottle, fuel shutoff switches, parking brake and flap switch. The glareshield has a generic mode control panel (the company is currently developing a 737 type-specific panel) and EFIS controls for both pilots. Just below the glareshield is an auto brake panel. The overhead panel is representative of the Boeing 737-800 and is appropriate for checklist accomplishment, though not all switches are functional.

The visual system uses either X-Plane or MS Flight Simulator outside visual graphics projected by a high-resolution system. Further, the intensity or resolution of the graphics can be changed to suit various needs, including weather. The device is only available with a forward view, but the company is currently working on peripheral visuals as well.

According to Altman, the system is a network of PCs, six to eight of them, that use Windows XP. There should be little or no maintenance needed for the device. “Even if the PC itself dies, it is roughly the size of a typical computer hard drive so we can ship it anywhere in the world very quickly and inexpensively. The mechanical part of the device is built like a fortress and everything is essentially self-lubricating and self-maintaining. We even use off-the-shelf networking switches so everything is easily replaceable and upgradeable.”

In addition to the cockpit, there is an instructor’s station with a moving map and system manipulation capability that allows for changing weather, aircraft position and system failures. “The system has been successful for transition training, crew resource management, flight management system training, IFR/VFR work and procedure training,” Altman said.

Altman called the A.A.T.S. an affordable alternative to high-cost trainers. “It allows crew-coordinated flight, from startup to landing, in real time,” he emphasized. “We also offer on-site setup and training with a real 737 check pilot. As an option we also conduct training in house here in Mather.”