Network lets pilots fly in virtual formation

2019-03-01 03:12:04

By Paul Marks NATO fighter pilots can now learn to fly together even when they are stationed thousands of miles apart. A low-cost, networked flight simulator lets pilots learn each other’s combat tactics remotely, and could prevent friendly fire incidents during coalition missions. At present, coalition pilots rarely train with one another due to the huge expense of bringing aircraft and support staff together. There are also too few full-motion flight simulators, which can cost $10 million each, to create virtual squadrons through remote link-up. Consequently, the first time many NATO pilots fly together is on a mission. The new simulator, built by UK defence firm Qinetiq, and US aerospace giant Boeing, aims to make collaborative training much easier. Most simulators are so expensive because they use very high resolution displays and because the cockpit is mounted on top of several computer-controlled hydraulic arms. This lets a trainee experience every gut-wrenching twist and turn of their plane’s flight. Such realism is not strictly necessary for tactical training, though, says Jon Saltmarsh, a development engineer with Qinetiq. “We need something that tells them how to fight with the aircraft, not just fly it,” he told New Scientist. “You don’t need a full-fidelity simulator for battle training.” So Qinetiq’s Mission Training through Distributed Simulation (MTDS) system uses a simplified aircraft cockpit and, instead of high-resolution displays, 13 standard video projectors produce an image across a wraparound screen. The imagery is clear enough to see who is flying alongside you, to identify terrain and to pick out targets on the ground. MTDS was put through its paces on 18 March, when a Royal Air Force crew in Lincoln, UK, “flew” four Eurofighters while a United States Air Force team in Arizona, US, joined them in virtual airspace in four Tornados, four F-16 and four A10 “tankbusters”. The US and UK pilots flew joint missions against computer-generated targets, and were in constant radio contact with one another. With the simulators networked via an undersea communications cable, there was a delay of only 0.2 seconds. “We are still working within the realms of what we consider acceptable,” says Wing Commander Mike Dobson of RAF Air Command. “If we did this from the other side of the world, though,