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Immersion in the real world: Towards an integrated global simulator environment
Published May 08, 2002 by Royal Aeronautical Society in United Kingdom
While full flight simulators provide high fidelity models of the aircraft systems and performance, the air traffic and weather environment in which flight simulator trainees are immersed is still quite barren and static. On one hand, the simulators themselves are now near perfect copies of the real aircraft, but on the other, they still operate in relatively sterile surroundings. Nature seems frozen in place and there are few or no contacts with other traffic or traffic control elements, except for what may be role-played by the onboard instructor. In contrast, real life traffic is more congested than ever, and pilots in terminal airspace and on airport grounds are literally bombarded with sensory inputs, both visual and aural, as they negotiate their way through traffic and adverse weather phenomena. While flight simulators are a great means of testing and improving motor and decision skills, the environment could be greatly improved to provide better training of situational awareness skills.
In order to rectify this situation, an integrated weather, traffic and air traffic control environment is required. Such an environment must provide the simulator crew with a full virtual reality experience, complete with visual representations of the traffic and weather, correlated sound and aerodynamic effects and realistic radio communications. In order to be believable, the simulated environment must be fully customizable. This would allow all aspects of the weather and traffic to be rendered representatively, from localized, dynamic weather systems to seamless enroute variations, airport-specific procedures to cultural accents. Of course, all this must be provided in such a way that instructor involvement remains minimal, which requires the capability to define complex and detailed off-line scenarios that can later be selected and executed during trainign or evaluation sessions.
Generating a complex, yet easy-to-use and cost-effective environment poses a real challenge. This paper will cover the virtual environment approaches currently in use on aircraft simulators and their visual systems, highlighting areas of recent advancement and, for those requiring further improvement, potential avenues of development.