Top Gun: new 360-degree flight simulator for fighter jet pilots unveiled

Geert Matthys, research and development manager at Barco, a Belgian company specializing in high-definition projectors and displays, gives an explanation inside a fully immersive 360-degree flight simulator in Kuurne October 11, 2011. Barco has unveiled what company executives claim is the ultimate fighter jet training tool designed to reproduce reality exactly as a pilot sees it. The dome is the first flight simulator to give trainee pilots a full 360-degree view of the world as they conduct virtual missions, said Barco.

More photos below. Related story here at Reuters.

(Photos: REUTERS/Yves Herman)


    1. El-predicto says…
      Jeff, in 6-10 yrs.  (assuming we don’t destroy ourselves) this will be available to the consumer in some form, with some motion effects.

      In 9-15 yrs., we will have access (est. $6500/hr. or 4 oz. gold)  to Mars robotic vehicles that send imagery that is indistinguishable from what you would see through the visor of  a “space helmet.”

      “You can write it down.”

      1. I used to do some work for a small flying school. They had simulators for student pilots and I used to say they should charge just to use the sims. They didn’t believe me.

      2. More like a few weeks depending on shipping
        The primary limitation has been projector cost, but pico projectors are driving the cost (and assembly complexity) way down.
        I’d estimate, for  ~$1-2K you can build a decent half dome sim ($300 for dome 3 x ~$150 for 3 surplus brightboxe DLP projectors, $100 mounting, $500 triple PCIe slot PC loaded w/ midrange GPUs) which will work fine in a dark room.

  1. During the eighties, I used to work for someone who previously worked at flight simulator manufacturer CAE.

    He once told me about a military fighter jet simulator that CAE had which worked like this one.  The seat inside the ‘egg’ could/would rotate in any direction.   I can’t find a link on CAE’s website with any great detail on military sims, obviously.  Can you imagine what they can do these days?

  2. That’s cool and all, but can we stop naming things “Top Gun?”  The Navy already has something called Top Gun.  It is depicted in the movie, Top Gun. 

  3. When I was younger I got to go to Wright-Patterson Airforce Base and see their simulators… theirs had 360 degree high-def displays (using laser projectors or something) that were fed with satelite imagery. One had a full jet inside it… another had just the cockpit, but was mounted on an arm that could pull 2 g’s in any direction and could do barrel rolls. This was in the late 90’s – I can only imagine what they have now.

    Anyway, when do I get a 360 display for my house?

  4. This is cool, but not a first, by any means.  In 1981, at Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles, we were developing a similar dome (~14 meter dia?) trainer, for the same purpose.  There were 3 sky/earth projectors and separate laser projectors for target simulation.  A fully-loaded cockpit of an Navy F/A-18 fighter was positioned on a platform 3 meters above the floor.   It was awesome, and I got airsick whenever I got to play in the cockpit with the video running.  One of the systems was to be installed at Naval Air Station Lemoore and another at El Toro, both in California.  I was only with the program for 18 months and left before the prototype was complete and first of these was installed for actual training.  At that time, it took a bank of about 10 IBM 11/70 mainframe computers to run the simulations.  Today you could probably run the same quality simulation from a cell-phone!

  5. It’s not 360 degrees because it’s got an up and down as well. It’s 4 pi steradians.


  6. Seems to me a far cheaper and easier method to achieve the same result would be a high-resolution head-mounted display with head-tracking. Perhaps the necessary resolution is not available yet….

    1. Few problems with that:

      With a head-mounted display you can’t combine it with the physical control panel from the vehicle you’re simulating. Not only is it important to be familiar with the control panel’s output, the tactile feedback of the right knobs and levers are important too.

      Focusing on a screen right in front of your eyes causes eye strain extremely quickly. Especially with stereoscopic vision, where your eyes are forced to focus on an imaginary image plane corresponding to objects that are not actually there. Most flight simulation (i.e. not games) is about flying in a straight line for a really long time while staring intently at control panels or at things in the distance. Not so good if you get eye strain after 10 minutes.

      Also, I’m not sure how good head tracking latency is these days, but the combo of not just head tracking but also rendering from that viewpoint has to be low enough and accurate enough to fool the brain, otherwise most people get really bad motion sickness.

  7. They’re developing this just in time for all pilots to be rendered obsolete by remote drones.  I wonder if UAV operators could use it.  Of course, intelligence is so bad that the attacks are essentially random anyway.  But if we stopped developing neat technology just because it was in the service of a broken system, the internet never would’ve been born.

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