24 October 2008

"Blue Canoes" and Their Progeny

When I started flying for the ARMY we were forced to endure an hours' simulator time a week.
It was a mostly a waste of time.

We called them "Blue Canoes".
Modified WWII "Link" trainers, they were single pilot, the exterior painted royal blue, an almost coffin shaped box. I suppose to make us feel less ridiculous being encased in the thing, they had actually attached a set of stubby yellow wings to the "fuselage".
They started life as fixed wind simulators and had been modified with a collective on the left of the seat for power control, rather than a panel-mounted throttle. They could rotate freely around their yaw axis... their only (terrible) attempt at "motion freedom".

In their defense, they were a good IFR procedures trainer. But putting aviators in a cardboard box and having them respond with the proper language to radio calls over a headset would have been nearly as effective and a whole lot cheaper than the blue canoes.

Shortly after I got home from Viet Nam the ARMY bought and started training in full-motion simulators. What a change! The "box" you climbed into was the size of a small van.
Pilot AND Copilot... the view surrounding you was EXACTLY that of being in a Huey cockpit. The windshield was opaque, simulating actual IFR conditions. When flight simulation started, the box was lifted into the air via a 3-axis hydraulic system. Moving the controls resulted in VERY realistic movement of the hydraulics...
(Once, given a complete loss of tail rotor and gearbox on short final by the operator as a joke, I crashed hard enough to pop both doors of the simulator open!)
These simulators were expensive. As I recall, an operator actually rode herd on a pod of four of them at a time, so operating them also included her/his paycheck.
Still, they were less expensive than actually going out and lighting the fire in a Huey, and a pilot could be given a complete loss of tail rotor and gearbox on short final without fear of loss of aircraft and two pilots. They were worth the cost.

I have NO experience with simulators today, but like you, I've seen videos of them.
Full motion, complete with video surrounding your field of view... they are a quantum leap improvement over the full-motion simulator that was such an improvement over the "blue canoe".

I think I have heard our military aviators now spend almost half their time in these simulators.
I'm sure aviators don't hate them the way we hated the canoe. It's time well spent, and cost effective too.
Darren or anyone else familiar with the new flight simulators...
Educate us please.


cj said...

Wow. What a cool post, GB. I love seeing where we've come from, ya know?

I saw a show today about future law enforcement technology and it made me feel the way the new simulators must make you feel - old and a few steps behind the times.


Tumo said...

Hey Greybeard. Simulators have become even a big factor in the training of Military drivers. Earlier this year I completed the transition from C-130 to the C-17. I was required to log 115+ hours and I think it was something like 28 different profiles where flown in the sim before even thinking of driving the real thing. The 35 million dollar sim provides a very realistic ride. It even sims the cracks in the runway. There is a groove in a runway at Pope you can feel on landing and it feels the same in the sim..They can run us thru any imagined situation and do it without killing us. They save time and money by being able to run thru a senerio over and over again without all the extra flying.....just back up the program and start at what ever point you want. Still not as cool as the real thing but pretty damn close...

Greybeard said...

Tumo my Bro, good to have you pop up.
When the Army started using full-motion sims for helicopters, the Chinooks actually had cameras that followed a huge terrain board and projected an image on the windshield. Operators would mess with students by moving a cow to the rooftop of a barn on the terrain board to keep students alert and interested.

A groove in the runway that is duplicated on the sim?
Far out!