Possible Limitations and Disadvantages of Flight Simulation: Cost of Developing Simulators for Custom Applications

Sometimes a system which goes beyond the current envelope of simulation offerings required. One of the most common examples is when someone needs to simulate with high fidelity an aircraft for which no simulator currently exists.

Another example is when an aircraft operator has specific missions which they need to simulate but current simulators can't handle. For example someone may have a helicopter outfitted with pontoons and because of their business they need to be able to simulate landing on water, and having divers attach a load to the aircraft and then lifting that load out of the water. This is vastly more complex than picking up a static load on land.

Developing a custom simulator for a new type of aircraft (as a high level overview) generally involves the following. Many of these will happen in parallel. Generally developing a simulator for a new aircraft will take nine to twenty-four months. Some of the tasks include but are not limited to:

  • Extensively photograph and measure all aspects of the cockpit. This may include 3D scanning
  • If required do the same for the whole aircraft
  • Identify and source suitable components for every switch, light, and other element. This can be thousands of parts.
  • Flight test the aircraft with a test pilot and data collection rig to measure exactly the characteristics of the aircraft. This can take dozens of flight hours for a reasonably good simulation. For absolute fidelity this can take over one hundred. If the simulator requires sophisticated engine simulations those metrics for the engines will also be gathered
  • Develop a aerodynamic flight model (aero model) suitable for the simulation engine
  • Develop an engine model for the simulator
  • Develop system and subsystem simulation software
  • Develop hardware for simulating systems and subsystems. This can involve integrating commercial off the shelf components but often requires custom electronics to simulate the more unique or complex systems.
  • Fabricate the non electronic components. This includes the main chassis, cockpit panels, chairs, external visual supports etc.
  • Assemble all components
  • Test and debug system
  • Write testing guide for regulatory approval
  • Have regulator test the simulator
  • Disassemble and crate the simulator for shipping
  • Ship to customer facility
  • Reassemble at customer facility
  • Test all systems again