Aviation computer-based training

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Aviation computer-based training

During the late 1980s I worked as a programmer for a central London based interactive video computer-based training software house and then, during the first Gulf war, for the computer-based training arm of a maker of mine hunter patrol boats. It struck me as reasonable to apply the knowledge I gained in those experiences to hang gliding and to general aviation.

Hang Gliding Ground School reviewed in PC Player, issue 4, March 1994

My Hang Gliding Ground School program reviewed in PC Player magazine

In 1991 I created a computer-based training program titled Hang Gliding Ground School. It ran under the contemporary ‘personal computer’ operating system Microsoft DOS 3.3 and it used the 16-color VGA at a resolution of 640 x 350 pixels. I used that rather than the otherwise preferable 640 x 480 resolution because the former allows for the simple ‘page swapping’ method of animation (and simulation). The image is constructed off-screen (so the user does not see lines being drawn and colored shapes appearing) and instantly swapped with the on-screen ‘page’. To do that with 640 x 480 pixels would have required either extra memory added to the computer (I wanted it to run on a standard low cost PC) or the extra clever programming skills of Flight Simulator originator Bruce Artwick and the programmers at Microsoft who took over the development of Flight Simulator.

If you mistimed your landing flare in a further development of my hang glider simulator, it flew happily underground. I had it turn the scenery dark brown when that happened. NASA beat me to simulated flying underground, it turns out. Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins described the same thing in the lunar module simulator that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to train for the first moon landing…

“…the computer printout showed that the LM had descended below the altitude of the lunar surface before starting to climb again…”

— from First Man, The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, 2005

Hang Gliding Ground School (1991) screenshot

Hang Gliding Ground School (1991) screenshot

Induced drag—an inevitable by-product of creating lift—is widely misunderstood.

I intended my 1992 computer-based training program Aerodynamics & Propulsion for flying schools world wide as well as for universities teaching aeronautical subjects. Together with my next planned program, Control & Stability, it would bring me uncountable riches, whereupon I would grandstand a denunciation of capitalism and reluctantly accede to popular requests for me to lead a new world government. Yeah, right.

Screenshot from Aerodynamics & Propulsion

Screenshot from Aerodynamics & Propulsion

This is the Solar Challenger built by a team led by Paul MacCready. It crossed the channel from France to England in 1983 on solar power, cruising at 12000 ft. Because solar cells of the time had to be flat, the upper surfaces of the wings and tailplanes were flat while the undersurfaces were cambered. According to popular aerodynamic theory of the time, that would cause the aircraft to be sucked downwards; so it would never leave the ground! Just one of the aerodynamic myths I attempted to expose with Aerodynamics & Propulsion. (I ran out of money before I could write Control & Stability.)

Illustration for planned Hang gliding ground school advertising literature

Illustration for planned Hang gliding ground school advertising literature

The guy in a hammock is my copy of a 1983 drawing by Matt A. Gouig in the IBM PC Handbook, edited by D.E. Dravnicks.

Guy in hammock using Hang Gliding Ground School, 1991

Guy in hammock using Hang Gliding Ground School, 1991

Hang Gliding Ground School (1991) screenshot

Hang Gliding Ground School (1991) screenshot

Just as widely misunderstood is the reason for applying pitch-up to coordinate a turn.

Incidentally, this part of the program—a step-wise animation controlled by the user—brought home to me the need for real user testing of software (and of anything you intend others to use). I tried it out in the largest hang gliding school in Britain at the time and none of the students grasped it. I reprogrammed it with more detail and more clearly worded explanations before trying again with real users at a national event: My changes had made a great improvement.

In 1993 I created a full flight simulator rig using Microsoft Flight Simulator in glider mode. A joystick mounted atop the hang glider frame was connected by elastic chords to the poles from which the airframe hung, so the stick deflected according to the pilot’s weight shift, which tilted the rig. Much to my surprise, it worked perfectly. The only special part I had to order was a joystick extension lead.

Hang gliding flight simulator

I created this hang gliding flight simulator in July 1993

After my failed attempt at ruling the world via providing it with aeronautical computer-based training, I worked for a large developer of computer-based training for the airline industry, based under the main approach at London’s Heathrow Airport. I took this photograph on my weekly journey to and from home and my weekday accommodation via rail, bus, and several miles of walking with my rucksack on my back.

Night photo at Heathrow Airport

Night photo I took at Heathrow Airport

In 1995, in an attempt to break the cycle of loss-making self employment, unemployment, and short term contact work with indeterminate gaps, I went back to college and obtained an honours degree in software engineering management. My final year project was a feasibility study of using a hang gliding simulator (with ‘virtual reality’ helmet-mounted display) for collision avoidance training.

Willi Muller said thermalling was so competitive that next year he planned to wear an eye patch and fly with one hand on his parachute. “Then they’ll give me some room,” said Willi.

— W.A. Roeker quoting Canadian hang gliding pioneer Willi Muller in Hang Gliding, October 1980

I ended up working as an unskilled manual labourer in a machine shop and a local factory, standing up for nine hours a day paid at the UK national minimum wage, which for single people without children and mortgages is not enough even to run a car. More years with no opportunity to fly my hang glider…

Internal links

About the author

Hang gliding

Powered flight

Simulator section of Hang gliding 1990 to 1993 part 2

Technical writing and programming

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