The history of flight simulation is almost as long and storied as the history of aviation.
Even though anyone with a laptop can now devote every spare minute of their free time to soaring through the skies at the controls of a Cessna, take charge of an F-15 Eagle, or captain a packed airliner thanks to the world of digital make-believe, it wasn’t always as easy as it is today to learn how to fly in a simulator.
The first flight simulator, the Link Trainer, was invented by Edward Link in the closing moments of the nineteen twenties, but it wasn’t until nineteen thirty-four when the USAAF finally decided to buy, and use, six of Link’s trainer’s that flight simulators started to help pilots to hone their aviation skills.
It was a fortuitous decision, as less than a decade later the United States entered the Second World War and started using the simulators in earnest to train the ever-growing number of would-be pilots who were eager to serve.
Less than eighty years later, flight simulators have evolved to a point where, when a pilot is locked inside and immersed in an emergency scenario that tests the abilities to the absolute limit and far beyond, it’s increasingly difficult to separate a simulator from the real thing.
In order to train the best pilots, the military and civilian aviation companies need to use the best flight simulators, the machines that are capable of taking pilots to the ragged edge and returning them safely at a moment’s notice.
Which begs the question, what is the best flight simulator that a pilot can train in?
It’d be easy to point to any number of the computer games that are widely used by pilots and say “Oh that one is the best because it can do this and that…”, but the truth is, none of the video games and home computer simulators are as good as the “real thing”, the full size, cockpit based simulators that use motion sensors, articulation, and four-dimensional engineering to bring the experience of flight, crashing to earth.
Trying to pinpoint which of those full-size, technological marvels is the best simulator is next to impossible, as they’re all designed to emulate the experience of flying different aircraft.
And how do you choose between military and civilian simulators and categorically state which is the best when they’re engineered to serve a completely different experience, albeit in the same physical theatre of action, for the pilots who are training in them?
The only way to single out which simulator is best is by brand and the company that actually makes the simulators that are in the highest demand all over the world.
And when you narrow that playing field down, there’s only one company that makes the go-to simulators of choice for both the military and civilian sectors.
And that’s the Canadian engineering and design form CAE Incorporated, which has a staggering seventy percent share of the global flight simulator market. In order to sell that many simulators, they must be doing something right.
How Much Is A Real Flight Simulator?
Let’s put it this way, real-world flight simulators aren’t exactly cheap to buy and they’re definitely not cheap to run.
As Boeing-based simulators are the best-selling models in the world, and the 737 simulator is the most sought after, it makes it the ideal machine to look at in order to try and establish a price point for real flight simulators.
Remember what we told you about how expensive they were? Well, strap yourself in and get ready for a shock, as the average (depending on size, software, and who the simulator is ordered from) simulator can cost anywhere between ten and twenty million dollars.
We know, you could almost buy a real plane instead of a simulator for that kind of money.
It doesn’t stop there though. Once a simulator is purchased and in place, it also costs the company (the military don’t make those figures public, which is why we’re focusing on the civilian aviation market) who use it to train their pilots between five hundred and one thousand dollars an hour to operate.
The figures are staggering and serve as evidentiary proof of just how important simulators are to the aviation industry.
Is A Flight Simulator Good For Pilot Training?
You might not be able to learn how to fly a multi-million dollar airliner while playing the latest Microsoft game, but airlines regularly train their pilots to fly in simulators before they let them loose on the controls of the real thing.
They also use them to ensure that their pilots can familiarize themselves with any software or hardware upgrades that their air fleets might be utilizing and to help them qualify to fly different makes and models of airliner.
Flight simulators are an invaluable resource for pilots and an excellent way to help them train to fly and to maintain their already established skillset.