Flight simulators or FSTDs (Flight Simulator Training Device) are devices intended to recreate a sensory experience similar to that of an aircraft in operation and are used to train flight crews.
Being able to conduct a flight simulation in a controlled environment allows one to simplify the training’s operational complexity, while at the same time reducing its cost as compared to real training. By means of simulators, crew members – who should be able to handle any unforeseen circumstance – can face situations which would be difficult to recreate safely in a flying aircraft without endangering their integrity. Hence, the crew can be trained to deal with abnormal or emergency situations and practice innumerable situations. Another important reason is that training in real aircraft would involve high fuel consumption levels, which airlines make an effort to avoid at all costs. These are just some of the reasons why the use of simulators has become widespread in training on emergency procedures and flight manoeuvres.
The aim of flight simulators is to save time and cut down on costs to obtain the best possible training for flight crew members to ensure they are properly trained to handle adverse situations at critical junctures.
Advances in technology and the development of systems has made it possible to conceive quite a few devices adapted to the reality of the aeroplane being simulated. Said simulations have made it possible to extend their use, from the training required to pilot a specific aircraft to instruction on and examination of the passenger cabin crew’s abilities, along with the annual refresher courses required by the airlines for which they work.
To ensure simulators are suitable for the flight crew’s training and capacity building, they have to be certified by the competent authority, which is in charge of issuing an FSTD grading certificate to validate the simulator into levels A, B, C and D according to its category. Level D is the most advanced and ensures utmost fidelity on how the aircraft’s behaviour is simulated. It is necessary to demonstrate that the simulator’s characteristics coincide with those of the aircraft for which it has been built to obtain said certification. These characteristics are set out in the documents provided by the relevant organisation (for instance, the FAA or the EASA), where the simulators’ technical characteristics are set forth and the way the different functionalities are to be checked.
There are several kinds of simulators which approach reality in different ways. A cabin simulator recreates a full-scale cabin of the aircraft being simulated and can be installed on a static platform placed on a fixed structure at a certain height or a moving platform placed on some hydraulic or electromechanical actuators capable of moving with up to six degrees of freedom, which are controlled by computerised systems.
Pilot training flight simulators tend to be mounted on a platform able to move in all directions, thereby recreating the sensation of real flight. They are also equipped with viewing screens that simulate the flight environment. A wide variety of special conditions and situations can be recreated through control program systems to reproduce the appearance, sensation and operation of the aircraft’s systems as closely as possible.
In the case of passenger cabin crew training, the device has to be equipped with systems that simulate situations of fire and smoke, a failure in communications systems and allow for training in emergency passenger evacuation procedures that enable an aircraft to be evacuated in 90 seconds. These procedures should be drilled at least once a year (refresher or recurrent courses) even though they are reviewed every day each time the crew boards the aeroplane at the briefing or during the silent review.
Some examples of the many different kinds of simulation training devices are set out below:
PTT: Part-Task Trainers. These are used to simulate a system of the aeroplane in question.
CPT: Cockpit Procedures Trainer. These are used to practice basic cockpit procedures, checks, etc.
CEET: Cabin Emergency Evacuation Trainer. These are evacuation and emergency simulation cabins which are specifically used to provide training on emergency and evacuation procedures, just as their name indicates.
FNPT: Flight and Navigation Procedures Trainer. These devices simulate flight and navigation procedures and are also called FBS (Fixed Base Simulator). They require the simulation of certain system failures. They are detailed models, but do not quite compare with the features offered by FFS.
FFS: Full-Motion Flight Simulator. These have to simulate all the aircraft’s most relevant systems. They use an OTW (outside world) visual system and a moving platform.
To sum up, though a simulator may be a small engineering work of art and cost a fortune, its aim is to save time and cut down on costs to obtain the best possible training for flight crew members to ensure they are properly trained to handle adverse situations at critical junctures. As is often said, if safety seems expensive, try having a failure.