OK, so if I asked you what the first flight simulator was, what would you answer? A fun question, isn’t it? Fact is, flights simulators have been around for as long as flight itself (the mechanical kind – birds don’t need simulators to learn to fly). The first flight sim was called The Antoinette Barrel Trainer. She was created to train pilots for the, you guessed it, Antoinette monoplane back in 1909. You see, the French had realized that the risks of training their pilots in the real plane were simply to high. Interestingly enough, a working model of the Atoinette Barrel trainer is still on display in Toulouse in France.
During both WW1 and WW2, pilots had to be trained in a hurry. In fact, not BONANZAJP only trained, but they had to be made combat ready. No easy task! Again, the simulator came into its own and played an important role.
It was only after Pearl Harbor that the first flights sim, similar to what we know today, saw the light. It was called the Link Trainer and it made an exact replica of the cockpit for fighter pilots. By mimicking the yaw and rolls, the feel and weight of fighter planes, training for more that 10 000 US fighter pilots were greatly accelerated using the Link Trainer.
The advancements in digital technologies such as television gave the FS its next big boost. TV screens were suddenly available and incorporated in the simulator for more realistic depictions of the sky and geo-locations. In 1982, an enormous curved mirror gave the simulator its first seamless horizontal view for simulated flight.
So, what is the golden thread that has pulled through all the years of experimentation and development? Realism. Yup, the key thought has always been to duplicate, as accurately as possible, the realism of the real-life cockpit.
I recently went through the motions of buying a new desktop flight simulator to replace my dated technology. This same realism that drove the development of the first barrel roller and continued throughout the decades, was crucially important to me. I really wanted to find something that could duplicate the flight and piloting experience (something I know quite well) on my Mac and my PC. When I finally took of in a Beechcraft Bonanza (yeah, I know it sounds boring, but I know the feel of the stick on a Bonanza really well and wanted to compare), so, when I finally took off in the Bonanza on my new flights simulator, I knew I had struck gold. I had hit the jackpot. When I dropped the little bird back onto the tarmac, with a slight bump, I was one satisfied pilot.