Top flight technology

The first commercial full-flight simulator for the Airbus A380 is ready for inspection by its first customer, Singapore Airlines. Developed by Thales UK at its site near Gatwick Airport the system uses a number of innovative technologies that makes it one of the most advanced simulators on the market, said the programme’s lead engineer, Alan Bailey.

Each full-sized simulator will cost between £15-20m, and when full flight data from operational aircraft is eventually fed in during the course of the next year it will be classified as a Grade D simulator.

This means that qualified pilots could fulfil all of their mandatory flight time in the simulator and fly their first commercial plane — with passengers — without ever having flown that particular aircraft before. Bailey added that although this was legal, it was unlikely that any airline would take this option.

With the inside of the cockpit exactly replicating the real thing, the complete A380 experience is provided by a high-resolution digitised recreation of the outside world through the cockpit window. Three cathode-ray tube projectors beam overlapping visual effects on to paper-thin mirrors that wrap around the windows.

These projectors — mounted on the simulator’s roof — beam images on to a translucent back-projector screen. The images are then reflected on to a near-perfect sphere of lightweight, stretched Mylar which blends all three channels into one picture.

According to Bailey a major challenge was integrating some of the A380’s innovations into the simulator.

‘The A380 will be the first commercial airliner to use AFDX,’ he said. ‘This is like the aviation industry’s version of Ethernet and connects the display screens and the other avionics together. Building that into our system required the development of a lot of new hardware and software.’

For the simulator to work effectively, fidelity to the real aircraft is key. All of the large safety-critical systems such as flight controls and the flight warning computer come from Airbus on a CD Rom which is fed directly into the simulator.

Integrating all of the different components from a variety of sources was also a challenge. These include the Honeywell-developed flight management computer and Aircraft Environmental Surveillance System (AESS) which combines weather radar, Traffic Control and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and an environmental system which helps pilots avoid difficult or dangerous weather.

The simulator can also be used by maintenance engineers to practise trouble-shooting system faults.

Thales revealed that it has received a simulator order from Lufthansa, and that construction of one for Malaysia Airlines is underway.