New Simulator Brings Advanced Flight Training Down To Earth

sealPurdue News

April 7, 1995

New Simulator Brings Advanced Flight Training Down To Earth

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.– Aviation students at Purdue University have a new way to fly without ever leaving the ground– in a Boeing 727-200 Level C flight simulator.

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 vantagepoint, 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."

According to Carney, Purdue was fortunate to get the simulator.

"Our chief flight simulator technician, Wes Carter, has frequent contacts with an impressive network of aviation professionals," Carney says. "Through these contacts, Wes learned that NASA Ames Research Center in California was planning to decommission the simulator to make room for a newer, more advanced model."

Carney alerted William P. Duncan, head of the Department of Aviation Technology, to the possibility of obtaining the simulator. Duncan took the proposal to Don K. Gentry, dean of Purdue's School of Technology.

"To say I was excited about the possibility of acquiring such an advanced piece of equipment would be an understatement," Gentry says. "Thanks to the tip Wes received, Purdue was first in line to ask for the simulator. It took months of letters, phone calls and negotiations, but in the end we convinced NASA that Purdue was the best place for the simulator."

There was one condition attached to the donation–Purdue would have to pay to bring the simulator back from California.

"With assistance from the National Science Foundation and laboratory reserve funds, our faculty and staff went to California, took the simulator apart and brought it back in several sections on semitrailers," Carney says. "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. 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.

"I honestly believe our staff did in less than a year what would have taken most organizations 18 months or longer," Carney says. "To the best of our knowledge, Purdue is the only university in the country to own and operate its own level C simulator for student training."

Duncan says students will benefit both professionally and financially from their experience in the simulator.

"With this type of equipment, our students will have documented jet-aircraft-type training that will enhance their initial job placement and career advancement potential," Duncan says; "This simulator continues our tradition of providing students with the highest-quality instruction at the lowest possible cost. Our students pay approximately $35 an hour for training on this simulator, compared to hundreds of dollars per hour on similar equipment in industry."

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. In 1983, Purdue moved into turboprop-powered air training and transportation with the acquisition of a Beechcraft King Air C-90. The university recently added a new Beechcraft King Air B-200 turboprop airplane to its fleet.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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