Home-Grown Simulators

Nine guys who have raised puttering in the garage to an art form.

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The sim in his Cedar Rapids, Iowa basement is a military hybrid. “There’s probably at least 10 different aircraft in there,” he explains. “If I tried to build a single aircraft type, I’d have to get parts only from that type,” he adds, revealing the telltale compulsiveness of sim builders. “I have to have a drink before I fly it; otherwise I get obsessive about every defect.”

Though the simulator can be rigged to fly combat missions, Wietlispach prefers the realism and terrain displays of the civilian-minded Flight Simulator 2002 program. “Flying in Chicago between buildings on Michigan Avenue at the speed of sound is quite a bit of fun,” he says. Still, Wietlispach admits that building the sim is much more fun than flying it. He’s recently added a pressurized G-suit and installed instruments to measure windshield temperature, engine nozzle position, and oil pressure. “It’s an obsession. Sometimes I’ll work on it all day without eating. Basically, I’m going to keep doing this until my hands break.” members.aol.com/wietlpachm/howto/

Flight Simulator Technology
Hardcore hobbyists’ simulators rely on elaborate combinations of hardware and software, but three elements—Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, the extended/programmable input controller, or EPIC, card, and add-on software designed by Enrico Schiratti—are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine the hobby without them.

Flight Simulator is the glue that binds most simulators together; it generates through-the-windscreen views and the flight-dynamics data used to run instruments, replicate an aircraft’s flight envelope, and create an external environment. The program is also popular because Microsoft makes a software developers kit available to enthusiasts who want to design airports, cockpit displays, or entirely new aircraft.

While Flight Simulator can replicate views seen from cockpit windows, Enrico Schiratti’s software is used by enthusiasts around the world to mediate internal displays: instruments and other flight management and electronic information systems. Schiratti is considered the guru of the flight sim community; he wrote software for F/A-18 cockpit displays in the film Behind Enemy Lines and managed to incorporate Boeing’s enhanced ground proximity warning system into simulators before Boeing could equip its own simulators with the system.

EPIC cards serve as the interface between Microsoft’s or Schiratti’s software and hardware such as LED displays, joysticks, toggle switches, dials, and lights. Without them, home-built simulators wouldn’t be as realistic.

For very complex simulators, as many as six computers may independently govern the pilot’s instruments, the copilot’s, the engine indication and crew alert system, an autopilot, hardware drivers, and lastly, the Flight Simulator software.

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