Flight simulation

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A flight simulation realistically simulates the flight in an airplane or spaceship . Flight simulations were originally developed for the training of crews, with the introduction of home computers and personal computers , programs were also created which primarily serve entertainment purposes and are computer games.

Flight simulations for educational purposes

Link trainer
Flight simulator with hydraulic movement system
Helicopter flight simulator for simulating hovering and landing; on a 6-axis heavy-duty robot of the type KR500 from KUKA AG ; The Robocoaster ride is also operated with such robots

The earliest flight simulations were moving platforms with pilot seats that changed their position when the control stick was moved in a manner similar to a real airplane. One of the first of these devices was built in Germany around 1915/16 at the Döberitz airfield . Around 1930 the former organ builder Edwin Albert Link developed a fully articulated flight simulator, the Link-Trainer , in order to reduce the costs of training private pilots. After adding blind flight instruments to his simulator, it was first used by the US Air Force, and later by air forces and airlines around the world for instrument flight training.

The link trainers were type-specific simulators, each based on the performance data of certain types of aircraft, e.g. B. the Douglas DC-2 airliner or the North American AT-6 trainer aircraft . In order to be able to use it for training torpedo bomber pilots, the British Air Force even upgraded a link trainer to a weapon system simulator.

The Link sky navigation trainer from 1941 was a simulator for training complete bomber crews for night flight missions. After the Second World War, similar simulators were used to train the crews of commercial aircraft. In 1948 Curtiss-Wright produced the first such simulator for the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

Later, the simulator technology was further developed to enable realistic visual flight simulation. The view from the cockpit could e.g. B. can be generated by a television camera traveling along a terrain model. Similar technology made it possible to simulate landing approaches by using a camera to transfer images of a runway drawn on a conveyor belt into the pilot's cockpit. Other techniques have also been used: e.g. For example, in an air combat simulator, the silhouette of an airplane model suspended movably around all axes was projected with a projector onto a dome surrounding the simulator cockpit in order to represent the enemy airplane, which was being controlled by another pilot in a second simulator of the same type.

The USAAF also used specially developed simulators to train their bombers on the Norden bomb sighting device .

With the development of powerful computer systems, the generation of images was finally also taken over by the computer, see CGIVS . While fully mobile simulators ( hexapods ) that are moved by hydraulic rams are common in the civil sector, the military sometimes uses fixed cockpits for jet aircraft, but simulates the centrifugal forces acting on the pilot by inflating his pressure suit and seat cushions.

Professional simulations used for training are often built for a specific training purpose and are characterized by a high level of detail for this purpose. In return, these Procedure Trainers deliberately neglect aspects of the flight that do not correspond to the stated purpose of the training.

Safety training for crosswind landings

In July 2008, Europe's first simulator for crosswind landings with single-engine aircraft was installed at the EDHF “Hungry Wolf” airfield in Itzehoe . The moment before touching down on the runway is stretched into infinity. So it is possible to consciously and repeatedly practice different aspects of crosswind landing with variably adjustable parameters.

Entertainment programs adapted for educational purposes

Officially certified simulators based on simulators originally developed for entertainment purposes are also used today as inexpensive training methods for private pilots.

The use of such simulators for training purposes in IFR courses and for sample licenses is currently carried out without approval from the Federal Aviation Office.

Flight simulations for entertainment purposes

Flight simulator in the DASA in Dortmund

Recreational use of full-fledged flight simulators

Some operators of flight simulators for training purposes also offer private individuals the use of the simulators for adventure purposes (fun flights) during idle times, sometimes via agencies, for example Lufthansa Aviation Training . These 1 to 3-hour programs usually offer a theoretical introduction, an hourly session in the simulator in a group of 1 to 3 people, as well as a debriefing and, if necessary, video evaluation. Due to the high operating costs of a full flight simulator, the prices for this range between € 200 and € 800, depending on the performance.

Use of fixed-base flight simulators

Recently, so-called fixed-base simulators, which stand motionless on the ground, have become more and more popular. There are already numerous of these simulators in Germany, mainly aircraft of the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 type are simulated here.

The equipment of these simulators varies greatly. Simpler models of these "fixed" simulators only have a front view and technically do not come close to the professional devices that are used for training purposes. However, newer flight simulators are much more detailed in terms of technology and implementation. Many of them faithfully reproduce instruments and look very much like a real cockpit. In addition, a 180 ° "all-round view" is made possible with some by means of an arrangement of several video projectors, which in conjunction with a complex system for simulating the flight noises creates a realistic cockpit atmosphere. In some cases, the cockpits of commercial aircraft that had been decommissioned were cut off and converted into flight simulators. The gap to professional flight simulators is closed by a converted cockpit of an Airbus A320 in Berlin, which is also fully moveable and is therefore able to reproduce the movements of the simulated aircraft.

There are also a few other types of aircraft that have been implemented.

Simulations of rotor aircraft, i.e. helicopters, gyrocopter, etc. are rarer. Ä. Adventure portals in particular have these in their program. As with the aircraft simulator, these simulators imitate a "panoramic view" with one or sometimes several monitors. A helicopter flight simulator based on an EC 135 helicopter stood in the Dresden Transport Museum until the end of 2016. A mirror technique is used for the projection. The image is spread open and reproduced from the inside with a 180 degree view of a dome in the helicopter's nose. This was previously reserved for professional training equipment. For this reason, the simulator has the shape and size of an EC 135 . In Berlin, on the other hand, a simulator flight in a Bölkow Bo 105 is offered.

The offers of these simulation providers are often diversified and aimed at individuals, groups and companies. Whereby you can conduct flights as an independent pilot or a complete event lasting several hours. Previous knowledge is usually not required, as a qualified flight instructor accompanies the flight and can provide support if necessary. Pilots or prospective pilots can use these devices to prepare for a recruitment test. You can also get to know the conditions of the "real" airspace and fly in virtual networks ( VATSIM and IVAO ). What is new in this area is that even seminars are offered in cooperation with psychotherapists to deal with fear of flying ( aviophobia ).

Flight simulators as a ride

In the early 1990s, fairground rides based on flight simulator technology (so-called venturers ) came into fashion at church fairs and in amusement parks . The hydraulic control is taken over by professional simulators, and action-packed computer animations and real-life films are shown on the screen . Today, however, full motion flight simulators built for amusement alone are rare.

Computer programs

Flight gear cockpit
Landscape display at Flight Gear

With the introduction of home computers , private individuals had enough computing power for the first time to allow flight simulations that were realistic within limits. The first flight simulators, due to a lack of graphic capabilities, concentrated, similar to the Link trainer, on instrument flight and typically limited the graphic to a horizon line.

The for the Apple II , developed Flight Simulator of Sublogic was one of the first home computer flight simulators with graphics capabilities, which enabled simulation of the visual flight. In the early 1980s it was ported to many home computers as well as to personal computers (PC), later bought by Microsoft and further developed under the name Microsoft Flight Simulator until 2009. In addition to the FS , only a few other civil simulations initially appeared, such as the A320-fs or Sierra's Pro Pilot series.

In 1984 the German company Otto Fahsig EDV brought out an instrument flight trainer for Commodore 64 under the name LAS (Light Aircraft Simulator) , which was widely used by private pilots. The first PC version appeared in 1990. The program has been continuously developed and is still primarily aimed at use as a teaching aid at flight schools and as an individual training device for instrument flight with aircraft in general aviation .

One of the first military flight sims on the PC, the many-to-many dogfights allowed was Their Finest Hour by Lucasfilm Games , which overcame the limitations of the performance by the display of all aircraft as bitmaps. Red Baron from Dynamix , a simulation of fighter planes from the First World War , was the first simulation that also displayed all other planes in flowing vector graphics .

Gunship of Microprose , a simulation of the attack helicopter AH-64 Apache , was one of the first helicopter flight simulation with realistic model.

Scenario from the open source flight simulator GL-117 .

Kesmai's Air Warrior , a World War II aircraft simulation , was the first online flight simulation and one of the first online action games. All aircraft in the Air Warrior Online arena were controlled by human players, with a few exceptions there were no computer-controlled opponents. Air Warrior has shaped the genre of online flight simulations to this day.

Flight Unlimited (FU) from Looking Glass , a simulation of modern aerobatic aircraft , was the first PC flight simulation whose flight-mechanical model was based on methods of numerical fluid mechanics (CFD). This enables a much more realistic simulation of flight conditions with high sideslip angles or with an asymmetrical stall . The name "Flight Unlimited" refers to the "Unlimited Category"; H. the highest of five levels of difficulty in aerobatic championships. Although the two successor versions (FU II and FU III) did not simulate aerobatic aircraft, but aircraft used in general aviation, the name Flight Unlimited remained. These versions had a less complex flight mechanical model without CFD. In return, these titles set new standards through the use of extensive photo scenery with a realistic terrain profile. The newly introduced air traffic control simulation allowed realistic flights under visual or instrument flight conditions.

Austin Meyer's X-Plane , a simulation of civil aviation, is characterized by the fact that the flight characteristics of the simulated aircraftare calculatedin real time from their physical properties such as mass, shape, profile and thrust. This makes it possible to simulate aircraft types for which no precise performance data are known or which have never been built. X-Plane is sometimes even used by private individuals and smaller aviation companies to simulate aircraft projects under development. Similar to the Microsoft flight simulator , X-Plane also coverswide areas of civil aviation.

FlightGear is the best known free open source flight simulator and is licensed under the GNU General Public License .

The Kamov Ka-50 - combat helicopter simulation DCS: Black Shark was published in 2008 (the German version until March 2009) and is characterized by working with the helicopter manufacturer Kamov from. The cockpit was modeled with all details, all switches can be clicked interactively, the starting procedure of the helicopter corresponds to the actual procedure.

To simulate the airspace and the common use (by means of virtual air traffic controllers ), three non-profit organizations have been formed, which have developed appropriate programs and operate the necessary server infrastructure for online flight simulation .


Input devices for flight simulations for entertainment purposes, which are mostly operated on the home computer, are first and foremost the control stick or control horn . In addition to rudder pedals, there are also thrust levers ( throttle ), radio and navigation units (radio stacks) in order to be able to set the frequencies faster and more realistically. Control units for the autopilot and professionally designed thrust units (4 throttle levers with reverse thrust) with trim wheel, flap lever and landing gear lever (i.e. the complete center console) are also available on the market. Overhead panels (complete or expandable in individual modules) are also popular. The transitions to the home flight control tower are fluid.

Flight cockpit simulators for simulations for entertainment purposes improve the simulation experience and, similar to simulations for training purposes, increase the realism in the operation of the simulated aircraft. Unlike the standard control elements, home flight cabins have not yet been commercially available, but are built by dedicated hobbyists for their own use. As in the professional field, home flight cabins can be type-neutral or certain aircraft types can be reproduced as precisely as possible.

The display often takes place on several monitors (via several graphics cards; or a "box" which distributes a monitor output to three monitors - TripleHead2Go; several computers are also used for display on several monitors - the "WideView" program enables the display). The use of projectors is not yet that widespread.


In order to increase the degree of realism, two large networks were founded worldwide ( VATSIM and IVAO ) in which flight simulation and the simulation of air traffic control are operated together. It is flown according to real navigation data with real weather and real flight routes.

Military aviation simulations were among the pioneers of real-time multiplayer internet games. Air Warrior founded this genre and defined game structures that are still used today.

Glider simulators

There are special flight simulators for gliding, which are used for training, recruiting young people and also for entertainment.

Flight simulations for model flight

Indoor flight training in the model flight simulator

Flight simulations for model aircraft occupy a special position. They usually offer numerous program functions and enable user-defined models to be simulated. The higher-quality products, to which the transmitter of the radio remote control can be connected as an input device , are suitable for practicing risk-free flight maneuvers with model airplanes or model helicopters . This simplifies the learning of flight controls. Common commercial products are for example Reflex XTR , Aerofly5 , Phoenix R / C or Realflight , freeware products e.g. B. FMS , HeliSimRC or Heli-X .

aerofly5 from IKARUS is z. B. a model flight simulator, which has a very powerful engine , as it not only takes into account all physical parameters such as mass, speed, aerodynamics, profile and thrust of the entire model, but also considers each assembly of an aircraft individually. The interaction of the assemblies leads to a very realistic flight simulation. With the 5.7 update, the simulator reached over 150 models and 50 scenarios at the end of 2011.

Simulation and reality

Unlike users of professional simulations, those of flight simulations for entertainment purposes are mostly only interested in a superficial reality of the simulation programs. While it is important for real flight crews to be aware of the differences between simulation and reality, for computer gamers the illusion of the greatest realism is often an essential part of the simulation experience.


  • David Allerton: Principles of flight simulation. Wiley, Chichester 2010, ISBN 978-0-470-75436-8 .
  • Special flight simulation. In: FliegerRevue , No. 7/2020, pp. 30–41; as a special part of this magazine with several articles

Web links

Commons : Flight simulation  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Volta Torrey: The War's Most Closely Guarded Secret Revealed: How The Norden Bombsight Does Its Job , in: Popular Science , June 1945
  2. ^ Website GL-117 ( Memento from January 16, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). The game was created in 2002 at the Technical University of Munich and has since been developed by a small community.
  3. Black Shark 1/7 ( Memento from July 6, 2009 in the Internet Archive )