NBAA Convention News

SimCom upgrading FTDs to enhance realism of training

 - September 30, 2008, 10:58 AM

The economy may be struggling, but as SimCom approaches its 20th anniversary the company continues to gain strength and grow. Once derided by some for touting the value of “cost-effective” flight training devices (FTD) over expensive full-flight simulation, this year alone SimCom will have trained about 7,500 pilots who apparently agree with that philosophy.

“SimCom’s value proposition has always revolved around the fundamental belief that we can offer a better value to our customers,” Wally David, SimCom president and CEO, told NBAA Convention News. “We do it a little more personalized and little more friendly.”

David said that about a year ago the company hired a consultant to survey customers to determine if those principles are still what attract the company’s market base.

“The concept of maximizing the value to the customer is more important today than ever before, in an environment of increased fuel costs and a tight economy,” he said.
“We spend a lot of time focused on enhancing value: more benefit without an incrementally higher price. We made our name by offering nonmotion training with enhanced visual systems and we continue to build upon those principles.”

SimCom is in the process of upgrading all its visual systems. The new visuals are the equivalent to those in a level-D simulator, he said. “The new visual systems give us the opportunity to present familiar scenarios to our customers. It makes training more realistic, more pertinent to their real-world operation.”

About one third of SimCom’s 20 flight training devices have been upgraded to the new standard, with the rest slated to be in service by about the end of March. In addition, the company also has 12 full-flight simulators.

The new visual systems are built by Redifun Simulation Inc. of Southlake, Texas. RSI is a nine-year-old company specializing in visuals for commercial and military full-flight simulators. While you may not have heard of RSI, you’ll have heard of where their key engineers came from. The company is an amalgam of simulator experts previously employed by such companies as Rediffusion Simulation, Hughes Training, Thomson Training and Simulation, Evans & Sutherland and American Airlines.

RSI’s Raster visual system has been certified for level-D training by Transport Canada, the Civil Aviation Authority of China and by Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark to JAR STD 1A Amendment 3.

The new 60-Hz visual system offers day/dawn/dusk/night or continuous time of day operation. It features more than 15,000 light points per channel with 2.5-arc-minute resolution and uni- and bidirectional light point lobe patterns.

From the pilot’s perspective, lights seen through the windshield don’t just appear on the screen unrealistically but rather have progressive growth and distance fading. The simulator is also capable of portraying flashing, rotating, strobe, VASI, PAPI and FLOLS lighting.

One of the most visually compelling aspects of the system is its incorporation of more than 80,000 anti-aliased (high-quality), multi-textured polygons per channel.
Anti-aliasing is the technique of minimizing the distortion artifacts known as aliasing when representing a high-resolution signal at a lower resolution. For example, with less sophisticated visual systems, the farther away from the eye the object appears the more likely it will appear unrealistically distorted. Anti-aliasing yields a more realistic visual environment all the way out to the edges of the display.

There are also subtle refinements incorporated that enhance realism, such as cloud movement, windsock direction and blowing snow correlating with the wind speed and direction. When puffy clouds are displayed, they realistically fade-in and -out, and thunderstorms, with rain shafts, can be correlated with weather radar.

The system also permits up to two solid cloud layers with variable transition zones plus three density levels of patchy and puffy clouds. And you won’t be up there alone anymore. Air traffic, animations and special effects bring the virtual scene to life.
Building upon the philosophy of offering a better value to its customers, the company is also looking into home-study options.

“We’re constantly evaluating options that will help reduce customer costs,” David said. “One of the biggest expenses is nonproductive work time–the amount of time the student is away from home plus transportation, hotels and rental cars.”

David said a good example of home study relates to the new Honeywell Apex system in the PC-12NG training device. “We’re allowing pilots to do some of that as home study. One of the big areas of change in the last five years is glass-panel avionics displays. They have incredible capabilities, but that’s how you fly the airplane now and you really need to understand them intimately,” he said. “We now have [Garmin] G1000 and [Rockwell Collins] Pro Line 21 part-task trainers that replicate flying the aircraft using the system. We let our customers who operate those systems use the part-task trainers as part of their regular course with us.”  

Tracy Brannon, SimCom senior vice president and managing director, talked about the future. “We continue to look at ways of expanding our FTD technology into additional markets, such as the VLJ,” he said. “In addition, we’re looking at the fact that markets are, to some degree, local. The closer you are to the customer, the better. To that end we’re looking for our next location and have considered the Midwest, New England and the Middle South states. We don’t have firm plans as of yet but we’d like to have something in the next 18 months.”  

SimCom recently added a Cessna Citation Ultra simulator, bringing the total number of Citation sims to four, including a CitationJet and Citation II located in Orlando, both level-C certified, and a level-B Citation II in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The level-C Ultra simulator was manufactured by SimCom and is equipped with Honeywell’s Primus 1000 EFIS system, the GNS-XLS FMS system, Primus II radios and Mark VIII EGPWS. The device features the Moog CFS E-Cue electric motion system with 36-inch stroke actuators. The simulator also includes an RSI 3-channel Raster flite image generator with a cross-view display and is capable of training for approaches in Aspen, Colo.  Later this year the company will also add a TBM 850 FTD, and by the middle of next year, a King Air 350 with Pro Line 21 avionics.

Also recently announced was the addition of a second Pilatus PC-12NG simulator in Orlando, bringing the total number of PC-12 sims in its fleet to three. All meet FAA level-5 standards and include a fully enclosed cockpit and Honeywell Apex avionics.

SimCom currently operates training facilities in Orlando and Vero Beach, Fla.; Glendale and Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Humberside International Airport in Kirmington, UK. The company is the exclusive training provider for the Socata TBM 700 and TBM 850, the Pilatus PC-12 and PC-12NG, Pipers and the Mitsubishi MU-2.