Aviation computer-based training

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Aviation computer-based training

That the “low pressure” idea has crept into every textbook is an example of a mental virus. Bernoulli is not an explanation at all, just a statement of the relationship of pressure with relative airspeed.

— Jack Lambie *

Ground school

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. (The bright curved streak is a photographic artifact.)

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.

Flight school

Art based on a photo by Dan Johnson of the Crystal Air Sports simulator in 1984

Art based on a photo by Dan Johnson of the Crystal Air Sports simulator at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1984

A hang glider sliding down a wire, which limits the pilot’s ability to get into difficulties, is an old idea that apparently works well. In addition to training, or rather pre-training in that you put the new pilot on the simulator before he or she starts flight school proper, it can be used for practicing emergency parachute deployment. (I did that while riding my paraglider harness sliding down a ‘zip wire’ strung across a narrow valley in 2002 or 2003.)

According to Tom Phillips writing in Hang Gliding, December 1984, the Crystal launch ramp was 125 feet above the sawdust landing zone, the distance traveled was about 700 feet, and flights lasted from 20 to 30 seconds.


Art based on a photo of F.M. Rogallo trying the Flight Dynamics hang glider simulator at Kitty Hawk Kites of North Carolina in late 1990 or early 1991

Art based on a photo of F.M. Rogallo trying the Flight Dynamics hang glider simulator at Kitty Hawk Kites (no larger image available)

In early 1991 I started out full time as a one-man software house developing a hang glider theory computer-based training program. When I saw the photo of F.M. Rogallo, one of the inventors of modern hang gliding, trying the Flight Dynamics hang glider simulator at Kitty Hawk Kites of North Carolina in the March 1991 edition of Hang Gliding, my initial reaction was to assume that the Americans had beaten me to it. (‘Creative’ types tend to automatically assume the worst in the first instance, I find.) However, while my program incorporated some simple flight simulation, those components were tailored to teaching various concepts, which is different from a general flight simulator.

Then, in 1993, one of my old experimental hang gliders — the airframe at least — found a new purpose. (See it in flight in Three-sixty degree appraisal (my flying 1976).) I built my own full simulator rig.

Everard's hang gliding flight simulator in July 1993

I created this hang gliding flight simulator in July 1993

I used the Microsoft Flight Simulator program 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. Amazingly, it worked perfectly! The only special part I had to order was a joystick extension lead, which is visible in the photo, taped to a pole.

In the photo, the elastic chords that connect the top of the joystick to the outer poles are missing. I do not recall the reason, but I guess it is for clarity. So my expression of concentrating on the screen is fake! (My right hand holds the infra red remote shutter release for the camera.)

Eventually I donated the rig to a hang gliding and paragliding school.

See under External links later on this page for Thomas Lowe’s simulator in beta test during 2021.

Collision avoidance training

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) to teach collision avoidance to hang glider and paraglider pilots. I drew on a document detailing a symposium of flight simulator technology held the previous year, chaired by Seth B. Anderson.

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

Art based on a photo by Bob Ormiston flying alongside Seth B. Anderson at Yosemite National Park, California

Art based on a photo by Bob Ormiston flying alongside Seth B. Anderson at Yosemite National Park, California

Anderson’s NASA Ames Flight Research Center colleague, hang glider aerial photographer Bob Ormiston initiated a landmark discussion in Hang Gliding magazine concerning pitch stability. It was prompted by several incidents of gliders pitching nose-down, inverting, and breaking, either in severe turbulence or when attempting aerobatics.

Photo of Seth B. Anderson

Seth B. Anderson of NASA (no larger image available)


Hang gliding

Powered flight

Technical writing and programming

External links

Kitty Hawk Kites in Hang Gliding History

Memoirs of an Aeronautical Engineer, Flight Tests at Ames Research Center: 1940 to 1970 by Seth B. Anderson, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Acrobat PDF document with plenty of photos, published after Anderson’s death in 2001)

Thomas Lowe’s simulator in beta test during 2021: Thomas Low videos on YouTube


Jack Lambie, Look Out Eagle! Move Over Duck!–Hang Gliding Beginnings in Sky Adventures, Legends and stories About the Early Days of Hang Gliding and Paragliding edited by Jim (Sky Dog) Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, 1998

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