Carter Aviation Technologies have developed the CarterCopter with the help of a popular flight simulator programme. At April’s Sun ‘n Fun fly-in, Lakeland, Florida, a CarterCopter spokesman said that X-Plane had probably saved the life of a test pilot, as well as a lot of expensive flight time.

X-Plane, designed and programmed by Austin Meyer, CEO of Laminar Research, was originally conceived as an aircraft design tool before being adapted to cater for the home computer market.

In its basic form, users can enter all the parameters required to make an aircraft fly, then refine those numbers until they resemble efficient flight characteristics. Test pilots can then perform abnormal functions on the simulator to see how they and the aircraft react.

An example of this is the CarterCopter project and during April’s Sun ‘n Fun fly-in, Jay Carter of Carter Aviation Technologies explained how X-Plane had contributed to the development of the gyroplane.

“X-Plane allows us to test and refine algorithms on our simulated CarterCopter without the time or cost of actual flight testing,” he said. “Using X-Plane, we can simulate the computer and sensors onboard the real CarterCopter allowing us to update the computers everytime we change the aircraft or the alogrithms being used.”

After each change, Carter test pilots practice on the simulator until they understand the effect of each change. When they later fly the actual aircraft they know what to expect.

“Techniques that work or don’t work on the simulator almost always work in the same way when we are actually flying the CarterCopter,” said chief test pilot, Larry Neal.

“At least one potential accident was avoided because we recognised a quickly developing situation, having encountered it during sessions with the flight simulator and practised the necessary corrective action.

“Use of the X-Plane simulator has since led to major changes in the aircraft hardware and software that have greatly reduced our workload and made the aircraft safer and easier to fly.”

An off-the-shelf flight simulator

X-Plane is a popular flight simulator – now in version 7 – and continues to be developed. Because the programme was originally intended to be used by aircraft designers, the method used to calculate flight dynamics and characteristics is extremely accurate – so accurate that the FAA have endorsed sim time as counting towards an ATPL.

Users have the option to fly over 40 different aircraft including general aviation aircraft, airliners, rotary, fighters, VTOL, vintage and sailplanes. Each has challenging characteristics such as torque effect and pilots will need to trim their machines before straight and level flight can be achieved. Pull the throttle on the Cessna 172 without using carb heat and the engine will stop!

Random failures can be programmed to take effect at a certain altitude, time, speed or by pressing a key on the keyboard. Control surfaces may fail, a tyre could blow on landing or the vacuum pump could malfunction, even an engine could separate from the aircraft – whatever the event, pilots will need quick reactions to avoid a sad end to the flight.

A full weather environment is user programmable with varying cloud cover; visibility and date/time can be altered to suit the type of flight. Three layers of wind can be set and thermal activity can be programmed – even microbursts can be factored into any weather scenario. Runway conditions are according to the weather environment – damp, wet or dry. A crosswind landing on a wet runway can prove to be a handful for most pilots! Users can opt to have the weather conditions deteriorate or gradually improve, a feature not often found in off the shelf flight simulators.

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