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April 2020

From balancing on barrels to full flight simulation

by Christine Anne Berger

Flight simulation training began in the early 1900s as a means to train pilots in a safer environment. With the advancement of echnology over the years, it now offers many more benefits. For instance, a pilot can train indoors, whenever they want, subject only to the availability of a simulator and an instructor. Pilots can also practice over and over until they become confident in a variety of scenarios. They can even define the weather and terrain conditions or recreate in-flight failures, allowing them to practice free from consequences. Studies have also proven that pilots learn faster in a simulator than in a real aircraft, making the entire process more cost effective.

A brief history of flight simulation

After the Wright brothers created their “Flyer” in 1903, pilot training became increasingly necessary. Why? Much like today, it was expensive and time-consuming to build and maintain aircraft and there were not many available. It was also safer, easier and more practical to practice procedures a few feet off ground than a few thousand feet in the air. In 1910, French commanders Georges Clolus and Alexandre Laffont and Lieutenant Pierre Clavenad asked the company Antoinette to build the first flight trainer. It was essentially a couple of half-barrels stacked on top of each other with a fake rudder. Two assistants would rock the contraption as the pilot in training sat in a chair on top of the barrels trying to maintain balance. It is said to be the first motionsimulated aircraft trainer ever invented, and they called it the “Tonneau Antoinette” (Antoinette barrel).

DY5E3E_sw From balancing on barrels to full flight simulation

Military personnel using the Link Trainer. (Photo: Alamy)

About 15 years later, after the First World War, pilot Edwin Link wanted to help pilots train in a more realistic machine and herefore created a trainer with real angular motion pitch (nose up and down), roll (wing up or
down) and yaw (nose left and right) called the Link Trainer. However, Link had difficulty inding a buyer until 1934 when the United States Air Force (USAF) accepted a contract to carry air mail. Tragically, in the first weeks the USAF lost quite a few pilots and the Air Corps brass became desperate. A veteran pilot who had trained many of the Army pilots, Casey Jones, then remembered Link, who had earlier tried to pitch the Link Trainer to the USAF. They asked Link to come without delay and show them his trainer. On the day Link flew to New Jersey, the visibility was terrible. But because Link was so well practiced, he still managed to land smoothly at Newark Field. The USAF was so impressed that it purchased six new trainers. This is said to be the -beginning of the flight simulator industry.

Flight simulation today

Today, once a pilot has a pilot’s license, they have a few options available for getting practice to help them earn their type rating for the Dornier 228. When it comes to practicing procedures on a motion platform that recreates realistic instrument flying (IF), they can engage in procedural training using an Operational Flight Trainer (OFT), a device usually intended for general flight training. A more technically advanced way to train is to use a Flight Simulator (FS), which is a device that artificially re-creates aircraft flight and the flying environment. This includes replicating how an aircraft and instruments react to factors such as air density, turbulence, wind, precipitation, clouds, etc. A Full Flight Simulator (FFS) is a high-fidelity full-size replica of a flight deck,
representing the aircraft in ground and flight operations. It has a visual system providing an out-of-the-flight deck view, and a force cueing motion system. Its performance complies with the minimum standards for FAA and EASA FFS qualifications.

The Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator

DO228-Simulator-1 From balancing on barrels to full flight simulation

Under the Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator at Simtec in Braunschweig, Germany.

Dornier 228 pilots can practice procedures around theworld on different Operational Flight Trainers. However, the only certified Full Flight Simulator type in the world for the Dornier 228 is located at Braunschweig Research Airport at the Simtec simulation technology training center. Almost every pilot of the Dornier 228 has made their way from somewhere in the world to the Braunschweig Research Airport in Germany. Pilots of the Dornier 228 engage in life-enriching projects around the globe, from flying scientists over the melting permafrost and dropping smoke-jumpers over forest fires in Alaska,

to patrolling the northern European coast and even saving chimpanzees in the Congo. Every Dornier 228 pilot needs training and experience to fly and maneuver in these environments, and Simtec’s head of training Helmut Kirner specializes in just that. He is in charge of training on Simtec’s Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator.

A proud heritage

Simtec is proud of its heritage and proud that its business started out with the creation of the Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator 25 years ago. In fact, Helmut says, “when you look out the window, over the parking lot in
Braunschweig, Germany, you can see row upon row of cars with the number ‘228’ in their license plates.” The success of its Dornier 228 FFS business has enabled Simtec to research, expand and develop new areas of customized motion simulations, which include driving, flying theaters and customized simulator rides of all sizes for entertainment attractions. The company’s motion simulators for test systems are setting industry standards and improving automotive safety through the testing of vehicle components such as fuel tanks and seats.

Pilots with a wealth of different experience come to learn the Dornier 228

Helmut has spent years training Dornier 228 pilots from all over the world and from a multitude of different cultures. He says that most of the people he meets are “clearly interesting pilots,” and as he gets to know them he has learned never to make assumptions about their flying experience. Once Helmut asked a pilot in training if he had flown something this complex before. The pilot responded: “Yes, a military jet,” which made Helmut smile. “I love to hear all about the pilots’ experiences,” he says, “where they come from and why they are now learning to fly the Dornier 228.”

DO228-Cockpit From balancing on barrels to full flight simulation

Inside the Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator.

Challenges of a Dornier 228 pilot

Captain Helmut knows the challenges Dornier 228 pilots face and what they need to train on the Full Flight Simulator, as he has been piloting the Dornier 228 for many years. Helmut was contracted by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in the summer of 2018, flying the permafrost mission at the Inuvik and Yellowknife bases. You might remember reading about this expedition in the previous LoveDornier228 edition. The Dornier 228s were outfitted with specialized radar equipment in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and then ferried back and forth to the Arctic. Helmut recalls: “Flying over the Arctic region was quite impressive. This is an area pilots rarely
get to see. The region is huge and just looking out the window as a pilot tourist it was incredible!” However, it wasn’t all about the stunning views. On research missions, it is always a challenge to get the aircraft exactly where the researchers need to be, at the right angle and at the right time – especially with the element of weather at play. But with the right team, right communication and the right training, it can all come together perfectly.


Being a pilot on this research mission was extremely demanding, challenging and rewarding for Helmut. He remembered that it “was like seeing both sides of the mission for once; the scientific and the pilot side.” The scientists needed absolute precision in the air. And while this is demanding for the pilot, the challenge is exciting. On this particular mission, the flight crew split duties in a very unconventional way. “Teamwork was demanding and challenging. Every meter and knot had to be precise. We all had captain status. The left seat of the cockpit focused solely on the lateral track while the right seat focused solely on altitude and speed. At the end, when the scientists told us they had obtained sound research results, it was really satisfying to hear.” Before a Dornier 228 pilot is able to fly with that kind of precision and take part in such an exciting mission, first they need a lot of training.

On location: the 3rd stage of training

Training for a Dornier 228 rating has three stages: first a ground course lays the foundation; second there is simulator training, completed with a check; and third there is real-life landing training, either done at Simtec or on location where the training pilot is from. Working with so many different cultures can be challenging. “I’m open to that and I enjoy learning from the different people. In some parts of the world one aspect of training is to remember to always do a last-minute physical check of the cabin to make sure you don’t have any additional guests, as this could be a problem for the fuel or weight capacity,” Helmut laughs. “Once the training is completed, I need to be sure the trained pilots are fully confident and safe to fly. I cannot leave before that.” He explained that a pilot’s competency is more than their skill level. It is also very much about “team work and commitment.” Chief Pilot Helmut Kirner continues to help others fulfill their dreams, to travel to global destinations and help create a better world. Our thanks to you, Helmut, for helping keep Dornier 228 pilots safe, successful and up in the air!

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Dornier 228 Full Flight Simulator at Simtec in Braunschweig, Germany.

Simtec simulation technology – watch the video!

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