SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE Mk.IX
We were approached by Boultbee Flight Academy to build them a Spitfire simulator. As the world's only Spitfire training school it was essential to them that the simulator was realistic enough to be used for training new pilots and keeping exisiting Spitfire pilots current on the aircraft for general flying and for displays.
This simulator was to be unique. The first of a kind. During the war pilots were given the instruction book to read then jumped in and had a go. Luckily for us all the majority of them did well enough not
A Link trainer - An instrument training simulator used in the 1940's
only to survive but also to use the aircraft to enable the defence of the United Kingdom and ultimately the free world. The technology also didn't exist 80 years ago to replicate the aircraft in a way that was beneficial to the pilots. Additionally there were thousands of aircraft so the requirement for a simulator was less. Nowadays, however, with only 50 of the original 21500 Spitfires still flying a greater value is put on their survival, and so the requirement for a Spitfire Simulator was born. Boultbee wanted to ensure that the pilots they train have the best chance of keeping themselves safe and protecting these emotional and financial icons for future generations to see flying. We were keen to help them with this goal.
Spitfire MK IX - MK392 as flown by Jonnie Johnson
A modern jet aircraft is a fairly easy aircraft to simulate . This is for a number of reasons. First of all the engine tends to be behind the pilot in a jet aircraft, be it military or civilian, meaning visibility forward is unencumbered by part of the airframe. This means you don't see anything forward of the cockpit. Very rarely would you see the wings either. This is not so in the Spitfire! Secondly jet aircraft are very sterile compared to piston powered aircraft meaning most of the simulation can be done through the visual system to create a full immersion. Again not so in the Spitfire. Speaking to Spitfire pilots we realised that this is an aircraft that can ostensibly be flown through the feedback the pilot gets through vibrations, sound and control forces. This makes sense and is what made it such a fantastic dog fight aircraft where most of the pilot's attention
could be focused outside where the real danger lay. So our brief was to create an environment that took into consideration all of the above points. We needed real gauges. movement, control loading through the controls, great sound and a visual system that allowed maximum visibility from the Spitfire's bowl like canopy.
We worked very closely with Boultbee in developing the solution for them, so much so that most, if not all, of the work was done at their location at Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex. It really helped to have an actual Mk.IX Spitfire in the hangar next door! We brought our knowledge of control systems, visual systems, motions systems, gauge conversion and interfacing, industry leading software programmers and providers and all the other key elements that bring the simulation to life. They were able to use their connections in the warbird industry to provide a complete original fuselage from frame 5 to frame 13 with all the controls and cockpit parts that make it a 100% recreation of a Spitfire Mk.IX cockpit. Using a less complicated but therefore less correct fuselage was considered both for speed of build and cost but ultimately it was decided that only original would suffice.
The fuselage skeleton
The complete visual system
The key design problem was how to blend the aircraft fuselage into the visual system. Many visual solutions were considered including flat, curved and domed screens. The chosen solution was a 3.2m fibreglass dome that wraps to 220 degrees horizontally provided by Warpalizer. The eyepoint sits in the centre of the dome which is projected onto by 7 Optoma projectors. The front of the fuselage sits roughly at the curve of the dome at the most forward point where the visual system blends the physical fuselage into digital nose and propeller. The wings are 100% projected with no blend required. This is because the wing root and roughly 50 cm of the wing itself are invisible rom the eyepoint in the cockpit. Motion was added using a D-Box system that allows 3 inches of movement in pitch. This simulates engine vibration, turbulence, runway conditions and gives the sense of weighting and unweighting with the onset of 'G' when significant pitch inputs are made. Control loading is provided by a Brunner system and is used for all the key flight controls, pitch, roll and yaw. Sound is provided through a headset with the volume turned up so that the full noise of the Merlin engine is evident to the pilot.
Tangmere Museum is one of the historical highlights on the south coast of the UK remembering the huge part the now obsolete airfield played in the Battle of Britain and the rest of the War. Huge thanks go to the Director Dudley Hooley who enabled Tangmere's participation in the build of the fuselage, and to Simon, Bob and Mike, all of whom gave their time to build the fuselage from the component parts provided to them. Their workmanship and dedication was exemplary and they delivered a perfect product to us. Huge thanks to them and all the team.
The leading warbird software developers with some of the most skilled people in the industry. A2A Simulations' Spitfire software provides the MK9 model on which the simulator is based. They have been rigorous in getting the information required to make it is a real as possible. As a part of this thirst for reality they came to the UK and rigged one of Boultbee Flight Academy's Spitfire TR9's with cameras and accelerometers and designed a flight profile that would give them all the data they needed to plug into existing algorithms to generate the full spectrum of flight characteristics.
Boultbee Flight Academy were both Client and partner in this build. The access to expertise from pilots and engineers alike not to mention having the actual aircraft to measure and gain information from close at hand were all invaluable. It is doubtful that the level of accuracy achieved would have been possible without this input. Additionally, and fortunately, they shared our dream to make the simulator as realistic as possible and were prepared to continually reassess the budget for the build as the need arose. The outcome is a product that both we and they are very proud of.