1.   Why does a university engineering department need a flight simulator?
2.   Do you use software from Flight Gear or Project Magenta?
3.   Is this software is any way connected with Microsoft Flight Simulator?
4.   Is there any commercial software in the flight simulator?
5.   Can I obtain the software?
6.   What hardware is used in the flight simulator?
7.   Can I study for a PhD in flight simulation?
8.   What operating system do you use in the flight simulator?
9.   What language is the software written in?
10.  Where do you get the data for your flight models?
11.  Do you use commercial packages for your flight displays?
12.  Where did you get your visual database from?
13.  How do you connect your PCs?
14.  Can I connect my hardware to your flight simulator?
15.  How fast does the simulator run?
16.  Could I connect my Matlab or Simulink software to the flight simulator?
17.  Could I connect my system to the flight simulator via Internet?
18.  Could I write the software for a flight simulator?
19.  What should I study if I want to work in the flight simulation industry?
20.  Are there any university degree programmes in the UK in flight simulation?
21.  Can I teach myself to fly using a flight simulator?
22.  I'm using a flight simulator - why does it not fly like the real aircraft?


1.Why does a university engineering department need a flight simulator?

Well, we teach our students to design advanced engineering systems, particularly in software design and control system design. The flight simulator provides an excellent real-time non-linear system for students to work on. If they make a mistake, there's no blood on the floor. In companies such as Boeing, Airbus and BAES, engineers use a range of simulation tools for system design, including engineering flight simulators, so we try to give our students some exposure to industrial design practices.

2. Do you use software from Flight Gear or Project Magenta?
No - all the software is written by staff in the Flight Simulation Group in the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

3. Is this software is any way connected with Microsoft Flight Simulator?
No - not in any way - none whatsoever - never was and never will be. Miss a turn for even thinking of asking this question.

4. Is there any commercial software in the flight simulator?
No see 2 above.

5. Can I obtain the software?
The complete software for the flight simulator will be provided as a CD with a textbook towards the end of 2008.

6. What hardware is used in the flight simulator?
7. Can I study for a PhD in flight simulation?
Yes - send your CV and an outline of your proposed project to Professor Allerton (d.j.allerton@sheffield.ac.uk)

8. What operating system do you use in the flight simulator?
Originally, the software ran on MS-DOS. When MS-DOS was no longer supported by Microsoft, we changed to FreeDOS. We have progressively moved to Linux, initially with RedHat 8.0. Since RedHat has changed to Fedora, we have moved to SUSE 10.3, mostly because its robust but also because it has excellent support for nVidia cards.

9. What language is the software written in?
Originally, back in the late 1980s, the software was written in BCPL, using scaled fixed-point arithmetic, running on the AtariST and custom Motorola 68000 hardware. The software was rewritten in Modula-2 in the early 1990s to run on PCs. In 2007, the software was rewritten in C, despite the authors view that Modula-2 is the natural choice for any complex software system.

10. Where do you get the data for your flight models?
This is a tricky one. There are quite a few NASA reports with bits of flight simulator data. Most textbooks have linearised flight models which are great for analysis but useless for flight simulation. In addition to the flight model data, you will also need a considerable amount of data to validate the model and this is usually missing from textbooks, papers or reports. Our flight models for the Boeing 747-100, F-16A, F-18, Piper PA-30 and UH-1H come from NASA reports. The data for the Cranfield A1 and the Piper PA-28 was provided by Professor Howe at Cranfield University. The data for the Cessna-172 is based on the data in Smetana's textbook. The BAE Jetstream-100 data was obtained from flight trials data at Cranfield University.

11. Do you use commercial packages for your flight displays?
The displays are reverse engineered from photographs or videos and are written in C using OpenGL. The textures for some of the instrument background are produced using ADOBE Photoshop.

12. Where did you get your visual database from?
Strictly, we don't bother with specific databases as we tile one database across the region of the flight simulator, orientating the database for the correct runway QDM and altitude. We use Mulitgen's Monterey database from having previously used OpenGVS. Colin Wood and Sons provided their Bristol database. We have several other databases provided by simulator companies.

13. How do you connect your PCs?
We use thin-wire Ethernet with UDPs. This provides portability and means that we are platform independent and language independent. Each system broadcasts a UDP packet at the start of each 20 ms frame.

14. Can I connect my hardware to your flight simulator?
Yes - but you will need to read UDP packets at 50 Hz and send UDP packets at 50 Hz.

15. How fast does the simulator run?
All the systems sustain a 50 Hz update rate at all times. The simulator can easily be modified to run at higher frame rates, e.g. 60 Hz or 100 Hz - higher frame rates are dependent on the processor speed.

16. Could I connect my Matlab or Simulink software to the flight simulator?
Yes - but you will need to read UDP packets at 50 Hz and send UDP packets at 50 Hz. We have produced an interface library (wrapper) in C to enable Matlab programs to read and write UDP packets.

17. Could I connect my system to the flight simulator via Internet?
In principle yes we have a gateway with Internet TCP/IP access on one side and access to the flight simulator using UDPs on the other side. In practice, it is difficult to sustain 50 Hz via the Internet using TCP/IP.

18. Could I write the software for a flight simulator?
It depends on your background. You will need expertise in programming high-level languages, knowledge of aircraft dynamics and avionics, expertise in computer graphics, a good mathematical background covering matrices, Laplace and trigonometry. There is nothing inherently difficult in flight simulation but there is a lot of it. The easy bit is building the hardware. The hard part is writing the software.

19. What should I study if I want to work in the flight simulation industry?
Flight simulation is a multi-disciplinary industry; an engineering degree in aerospace, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or computer systems engineering is a good start.

20. Are there any university degree programmes in the UK in flight simulation?
No - the subject is too specialised. However, some MSc courses offer flight dynamics or real-time computing. The annual Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Simulation Group (http://www.raes-fsg.org.uk/) short course at Cranfield University offers a good introduction to the subject.

21. Can I teach myself to fly using a flight simulator?
No - a flight simulator is just a useful tool in flying training. You will need an approved course of training with a qualified instructor. In fact, if you have spent a lot of time playing on a flight simulator, you may have learnt bad habits that will need to be corrected. Flight simulators are used in instrument flying training, but only as part of the syllabus of a formal training programme.

22. I'm using a flight simulator - why does it not fly like the real aircraft?

There are a number of possible reasons: