Purdue is the only university in the country to own and operate such a high-level simulator for student flight training, and students say they are awed by the realistic experience.
"Sitting in the captain's seat is as exciting as it is demanding, due to the realism created by the simulator," says Mark D. Lindeman, a senior from South Bend in the corporate pilot program. "It's more realistic than our other simulators, including being less forgiving."
The simulator represents a $3 million donation to Purdue from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and it is a high-fidelity replica of the cockpit of a Boeing 727 airplane. Seniors in Purdue's professional pilot program use the simulator as a learning laboratory for their flight engineer certification and corporate flight training.
Ronald L. Beyers and Donald R. James, assistant professors in the department, are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a type-rating program that would allow students to become certified 727 pilots using the lab.
Lower-level simulators typically have three-axis motion, meaning they can move vertically, forward and backward, and side to side. The new simulator adds the dimensions of acceleration and deceleration to each of the other three, giving it a six-axis range of motion.
Thomas Q. Carney, associate head of the department and an instructor on the simulator, says that faculty also are impressed by the simulator's realism.
"When you're inside the cockpit it looks, feels and responds exactly like the airplane," Carney says. "It's so technologically advanced, the sensations of flight are quite realistic."
There's room inside the simulator for three students and one instructor. Students take their places as pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer, while the instructor sits in front of a programming station behind them. From this vantage point, the instructor can program a wide range of scenarios from engine failure to severe weather.
"If the student makes a mistake in the simulator, we can do it all over again and do it right," Carney says. "We put the students through an intensive professional curriculum. In addition to normal situations, students face a myriad of scenarios they may never encounter in real life. But if they ever do, it's important to know they've been trained how to respond."
The Purdue group received word from NASA early last year that they could have the simulator if they would pay to bring it back from California.
"That was just the beginning of our challenges in installing and certifying the simulator. First, we discovered it was too large to fit in any of our buildings," Carney says. "It has a much larger range of motion than our other simulators and also requires a much stronger anchoring system."
To solve the problem, a pit was dug in one of the existing hangars at the Purdue Airport and a new concrete pad was poured to anchor the simulator. Finally in late 1994, after making numerous other modifications, the machine received FAA certification as a level C simulator.
In addition to the new simulator, the department owns and operates two lower-level simulators -- a Boeing 707 and a Boeing 727-100.
Purdue, which in 1930 became the first university to establish an airport and the first university to offer a flight training program for college credit, also has a fleet of 24 training aircraft used to train more than 200 students majoring in flight technology.
Sources: Don K. Gentry, (765) 494-2552
Thomas Q. Carney, (765) 494-9954; Internet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ronald L. Beyers, (765) 494-9953
Donald R. James, (765) 494-9964
Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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