Advancements in Flight Simulation 

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With the advent of advanced electronic technology, aviation has since been poised to record rapid developments, which border more on safety, comfort, capacity and technicalities of the airlines. Therefore, fight simulation has registered rapid advancements in the last half century, as observes. Today, there is a wide spectrum of flight simulators that are used to facilitate different training styles. The generation of flight simulation models from the free or less expensive computer simulators to the high cost motion based flight simulation training devices paints a picture of the advancements that have since characterized the field of flight simulation. 

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This paper is based the chronology of events that have shaped flight simulation since the inception of this concept. Apparently, the growth of the simulation industry from space programs to commercial aviation and the current use of simulation for advanced professional application have continued to generate diverse developments. Besides, the role of the simulator in training aviation professionals continues to gain acceptance in many countries over the last three decades, according to Stevens and Lewis (2004). 

This paper analyses the advancements that have characterized flight simulation, in the process comparing the modern flight simulation to the older models of flight simulation. Through this paper, the essence of reflecting on the history of flight simulation will be laid bare, as the gains made in the flight simulation industry will be used to evaluate the overall impact that simulation has had on the aviation industry. 


Today, as Jeon (2015) elucidates, flight simulation is among the most valued industries, stretching its application beyond vast fields of analytical and training requirements. Despite this, little information exists on the origins of flight simulation, and the tenacity of its development to become the multi-million dollar industry that it is today. Many people, both inside and outside the aviation industry, have limited understanding of the efforts made by the flight simulation services to attain recognition and credibility, not at least with regard to using simulation as a tool for training prospective aviation professionals. 

Evidently, technology has been the main driver of the growth of flight simulation. This represents a considerable growth when compared to the minimal technologies that were present 100 years ago when flight simulation was introduced. Through concerted efforts, it took 30 years for simulation to be accepted as a credible aviation training tool. Since then, flight simulation has continued to grow, hence stretching its applicability in commercial, analytic and military aviation. 

The first documented flight simulator published in the Antoinette Catalogue

Looking at the history of flight simulation, Stevens and Lewis (2004) trace the first flight simulator back to 1910. Even upon the development of the first flight simulator, the significance of training in aviation has never been underestimated. The 1910 flight simulator was a structure that was made up of two barrel halves. One barrel represented a singing cockpit; as the other was placed on a pedestal. This flight simulator, published in the Antoinette Catalogue, which was defined as an invention that could enable novices to have a better understanding of how airplanes work. 

In as much as the 20th century marked the inception of technological advancements the first flight simulation was a total opposite of the theme of technology that defined the period in which the simulator was established. While the pilot sat in the upper half barrel of the Antoinette simulator, the flight altitudes were controlled manually, as opposed to the modern altitudes that are controlled by digitized technologies. 

During this period, the world was preparing to witness World War 1, a factor that raised the demand for aviators. Along with the increasing demand for aviators came the increased need to train these professionals. Consequently, tests were included in the piloting section, with several devices being invented to help in assessing the potentials of aviators. These developments marked a critical step in the evolution of flight simulation, as Robinson and Mania (2007) write. 

The first published Antoinette simulator was rapidly replaced by advanced electrical and mechanical simulators that were fitted with controls. Using these new automated devices, the altitude was set through rotating the pilot’s fuselage to an altitude corresponding that of a real aircraft. Even more, the simulator enabled the simulation instructor to simulate the effects of turbulent airs through the disturbance controls. 

With the First World War approaching rapidly, the flight training machines that enabled the pilots to practice aviation through spatial orientation were introduced. In as much different flight simulation developers established their unique simulators; the concept was mainly a replica of the Ruggles Orientation simulator, which was electrically controlled by the instructor. These were the first flight simulation records that were made. This simulator had actualized the engine noise, adding it to the rudimentary visual descriptions of the altitude. 

The Links trainer launched in 1929

The period during the World War saw limited developments in the actualization of flight simulation instruments. However, the amount of research on the field of flight simulation increased rapidly, as the 1929 launch of the Link Trainer would depict. This flight simulation instrument included the visual and audio effects of a real aircraft, with advancements made on to allow for tilting of the fuselage and balancing parts of the aircraft such as the rudder against the flaps. By the time of this invention, synthetic flight simulation had developed for 30 years, with no significant achievements made in commercial and analytical aviation. 

As Weingarten (2005) explains, the information about flight simulation was widespread by 1930. However, with the widespread calls for aviation safety, many people held the belief that simulators could not be considered substitutes of the actual flight. Such notions further clouded the acceptance of the simulated flight. This however did not deter the resolve of aviation scientists who invested heavily in legitimizing the use of flight simulation for aviation training.

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Following the backlash received in relation to the earlier types of flight simulators, scientists began developing instruments that could heighten effective training of the pilots. While other scientists proposed the fixation of dummy controls on to the older moving flight simulators such as that of Links, others preferred the development of non-movable devices that could perform the task of instrument flight training. 

These deliberations were essential in the introduction of instrument flights. Consequently, increasingly complex instruments were fitted on the moveable trainers. These machines, furthermore, were controlled mechanically and pneumatically (Kilner, 2012). These developments came along with the opening of the Links flying school, the pioneer in using flight simulators to provide certification for aviation training. These developments were complemented by the introduction of the plotter, flight path recording instrument. Through these instruments, the instructor could simulate radio beacon signals using a line on the map. From this period, majority of the flight simulation advances evolved based on the prevalent electronic methods and the introduction of electrical technologies to the field. 

As history could put it, the Second World War triggered more technical developments in aviation and flight simulation at large. The substantial increases in the technicalities of aviation during the Second World War were based on the technological prowess at the disposal of countries embroiled in the World War. Besides, the need for training more pilots to operate different types of military aircraft speared the development of flight simulation. 

During this period, the aircraft design was developed to include variable pitch propellers, high speed gears and retractable undercarriages. Such changes in the aircraft design necessitated sound training in the cockpit, as the mock fuselage was introduced to assist the training procedures. 

The need for cooperation among the cockpit crew was one of the factors that led to the widespread acceptance of flight simulation after the World War 2 (Wei, Xia and Wang, 2009). Whereas the instructors specialized in monitoring flight performance based o the cockpit layouts of the different aircrafts, the trainees were tasked with learning the procedures involved in flying. It is during this period that flight simulation was diversified beyond the traditional technical aspects of flying the aircraft to envisage other factors such as the procedural aspects. 

With these developments, the flight simulation world was rapidly witnessing changes that drew it closer to attaining the reality experiences associated with comparing flight simulation to the actual flight. The introduction of analogue computers made technology readily available to incorporate in the aviation field. With such developments came the electronic flight simulator, a complete upgrade from the analogue simulators that were widely used for training.

Boeing’s first flight simulator developed by Bell Laboratories and Dr. Dehmel

In 1943, Curtiss-Wright Corporation tasked Bell Laboratories and Dr. Dehmel with a contract to establish the first electronic flight simulators. This knowledge was used in the establishment of Boeing’s first full flight simulator, which was owned by Pan American Airways. Consequently, Boeing began to receive offers for development of more advanced flight simulation instruments. By 1947, BAOC had entered an agreement to begin the development of the advanced electronic flight simulators, which used analogue computation to facilitate current transmission for the movement of the aircraft. 

These were evident advances in flight simulation that were a credit to the innovation technologies in electronics. These advances facilitated the simulation of the actualized plane controls and the instruments. The introduction of computers into aviation would rapidly be absorbed into the flight simulation industry, as computers were increasingly being used to evaluate the aerodynamics rules. Simulation was made even easier with the use of equation variables to incorporate outputs into actualized simulation. As Stevens and Lewis (2004) explain, all this while, flight simulation was conducted by trial and error, as opposed to the reality. 

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The 1950s witnessed the development of even more sophisticated flight simulation instruments. The lack of accurate performance data in the control system and the airframes still hindered the accuracy of the simulation to attain likeliness to that of the real airplane. However, with the introduction of largest transport jets, aircraft manufacturers began to produce more data that encouraged the extensiveness of flight testing, all in a bid to boost the quality of transport instruments. 

Consequently, the large analogue simulators had began to show notable errors due to the limited accuracy that could not match the requisite standards for the extensive aircraft training. However, digital computers were introduced into the aviation industry barely into the 1960s. Upon the immediate adoption of digital computers into the aviation industry, the digital simulator was established (Jeon, 2015). The Sylvania Corporation, using research from the University of Pennsylvania introduced the first digital flight simulator named the Universal Digital Operational Flight Trainer. 

Mark 1: The first flight simulator that used digital computer programming

Soon after, the Mark 1 was introduced by Links. This device had computerized programming that envisaged a large storage capacity. The adoption of the Mark 1 by the US Military would then be followed by major airlines around the world. These changes marked the swing from analogue to digital flight simulation, hence kick starting the production of hybrid flight simulation devices. The use of the computers in flight simulation had become a topic that commanded no debate, as at 1970, all manufacturers of flight simulators concurred on the significance of computers in flight simulation. 

During this period, the availability of digital computer technologies largely contributed to the development of larger aircrafts that had wider bodies. Despite this, the digital computers continued to be used to provide precision in the control of the motion systems, which continued to improve gradually. 

As elucidated by Tang, Liu and Wu (2010), the 1970s marked the major breakthrough for flight simulation. The computer-generated graphics were applied into flight simulation. For instance, digital computers made it possible to simulate the actual night flights. More dimensions were developed as the landscapes and scenarios took up the blurred white points that were used as visuals in the analogue flight simulators. To date, more computer technologies have been injected into the flight simulation industry, with all major airlines having advanced flight simulation systems for almost each aircraft in its fleet.


The history of flight simulation is an appropriate testament to how digital technology has helped developed the aviation industry. In the beginning, no standards were put in place to regulate and supervise the production of simulators, since there was widespread mistrust in the credibility of these systems in fulfilling the training needs of the prospective airline operators. However, upon the transition from analogue to digital computation, there has been widespread investment in flight simulation, a factor that elevated the industry to the value it currently commands. 

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  1. Jeon, C. (2015). The Virtual Flier: The Link Trainer, Flight Simulation, and Pilot Identity. Technology and Culture56(1), 28-53. doi:10.1353/tech.2015.0017 
  2. KILNER, J. (2012). Pneumatic tire model for aircraft simulation. Journal Of Aircraft34(16), 851-857. doi:10.2514/3.44238 
  3. Robinson, A. & Mania, K. (2007). Technological research challenges of flight simulation and flight instructor assessments of perceived fidelity. Simulation & Gaming38(1), 112-135. doi:10.1177/1046878106299035
  4. Stevens, B. & Lewis, F. (2004). Aircraft Control and Simulation. Aircraft Engineering And Aerospace Technology76(5). doi:10.1108/aeat.2004.12776eae.001
  5. Tang, Y., Liu, C., & Wu, H. (2010). 3D flight track and 6-DOF flight simulation based on Google Earth.Journal Of Computer Applications29(12), 3385-3387. doi:10.3724/sp.j.1087.2009.03385
  6. Wei, Y., Xia, S., & Wang, Z. (2009). Physics-Based Simulation of Human Motion in Flight. Journal Of Software19(12), 3228-3236. doi:10.3724/sp.j.1001.2008.03228
  7. Weingarten, N. (2005). History of In-Flight Simulation at General Dynamics. Journal Of Aircraft,42(2), 290-298. doi:10.2514/1.4663
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