Flying High at Zero Altitude
December 1958 Popular Electronics
My flight simulator software (MS Flight Sim 2002) and computer I run it on (HP i7 notebook) are each more powerful
than the software and computer that ran the Douglas DC-8 pilot training simulator featured in this 1958 article in
Popular Electronics. Two racks of 1000+ vacuum tubes
did the electronic heavy lifting while massive DC motors did the physical cockpit heavy lifting. The computer
needed to handle as many as 40 variables at one time, including 6 differential equations of motion. 100
servomotors, 540 amplifiers and 2,200 gears drove the instrument panel gauges, dials, and movie projector
mechanisms. The instrument panel description conjures images of the inside of a modern office-grade copying
machine with its very dense conglomeration of gears and axels (have you seen the inside of one of those lately?).
[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing
nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October
1954 through April 1985. As time permits, I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby
Flying High at Zero Altitude
By Ben Preece
pilot and co-pilot of the Douglas DC-8 Jetliner couldn't see anything through the windshield. It was totally dark
outside. The altimeter was winding down as the giant plane dropped through the overcast. The crew chief watched his
"We'll be out in a minute," the pilot said, referring to the cloud bank he'd been in since
take-off. Then the lights of the field appeared below.
"There it is," the copilot gestured. A bright, double
row of lights, outlining the runway, could be seen ahead and below. The DC-8 Jetliner dropped slowly until it was
over the runway. The pilot pulled the nose up, there was a slight bump, then a squeal of tires as the brakes were
applied, and the ship had landed.
The pilot, copilot and crew chief had just experienced a coast-to-coast flight.
However, their greatest altitude had been under ten feet, the greatest speed zero miles an hour. Yet, except for the
gravitational forces, this crew had experienced every sensation of being in an airplane flying five hundred miles
per hour at 35,000 feet. They had just completed a "ride" in the DC-8 flight simulator!
An artist's concept of the DC-8 Jetliner simulator setup. As the pilot "flies" the simulator, a television camera
traces the plane's path along a three-dimensional model of an airport and approach area on the rear wall. The TV
picture is projected on the screen in front of the cockpit. At the side of the room are racks which house the electronic
"brain" of the simulator.
Pilots learn to fly the Douglas DC-8 Jetliner on terra firma. Here, a pilot "checks out" for the first time. The
cockpit exactly duplicates the DC-8 controls. Closed-circuit TV projector provides realistic visual impression encountered
during landings and take-offs. The simulator was produced by Link Aviation, Inc.
A television camera scans a miniature relief map built to a 300:1 scale. The camera is automatically positioned
along the aircraft course and altitude, and assumes the aircraft attitude. Movement of camera is governed by electronic
response of simulated Jetliner to pilot's controls. The relief map is wall-mounted to save floor space.
The simulated DC-8 Jetliner's flight is traced on these maps in the control room of the simulator. The instructor
makes the necessary control tower and check-point voice communications. Controls at the extreme right provide radio
and navigation signals.
The DC-8 simulator works electronically to produce all the sensations
of flying, including correct instrument readings, climb and bank altitudes, everything. It even has a closed-circuit
television system which shows you an airfield, just as you would see it in the real DC-8.
Such simulators train
pilots to fly planes that haven't rolled off the assembly line.
Swift, new planes like the Douglas DC-8, the
Boeing 707 and the Lockheed Electra will be "old hat" to airline pilots when they go into service.
A DC-8 simulator
is as realistic as the actual airplane. It consists of a cockpit section, a scale model airport, a closed-circuit
television system, and a computer system and servomechanisms to control the position of the cockpit section.
Realism in Training.
The cockpit has all the dials, levers and gauges of the DC-8 itself.
When the pilot "flies" the simulator, he experiences all the motions he would feel in real flight, except the g-loads.
There are air pockets, sudden wind gusts, the sound of the jet engines, even the two quick jars the real DC-8 feels
when it slips into a bank at high altitude and the wings lose their lift.
The crew of the simulator consists
of the pilot, copilot, crew chief and instructor. Additional personnel outside operate the radio signal system and
the closed-circuit television. The instructor can simulate any emergency a pilot will find in flight. The crew in
the radio control room can duplicate the signal of any radio station in the world, and send six signals at once. Thus,
the pilot may receive every radio indication that he is flying over Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or London. The
radio crew can even vary the compass reading to allow for the magnetic variation typical in any part of the world.
In short, once the pilot and his crew take their seats, they are in a real airplane. When the jet engines are
running, the cockpit may buck against the brakes, depending upon the throttle setting. When the brakes are released...off
they go! The runway lights whirl by on either side. Looking straight ahead, the crew has the illusion of motion as
the lights go by.
In the air, the instructor throws the book at the pilot. Engine failure may "occur," hydraulic
failure, cooling system failure, a change in the plane's center of gravity, or any other trouble. More than one pilot
has been saved by his simulator training. It teaches him to think fast and to do the right thing in a split second.
The DC-8 simulator does everything but fly. "It's really an electronic brain," one engineer said. "It must handle
as many as forty variables at one time, including the six differential equations of motion. Then it must solve the
problem and translate the answer into airplane motion, instrument readings and a visual television picture for the
Among those forty variables are engine thrust, fuel pressure, Mach number, altitude, rate of climb
or descent, and many others.
D.C. circuits are used throughout for
several reasons. Direct current provides a higher degree of accuracy, eliminates the possibility of phase shift, harmonic
distortion, erratic instrument motion and noise pickup. The circuits are simpler and therefore easier to maintain.
Direct current also eliminates the fluctuations and variations inherent in most of the alternating current supplies.
The DC-8 simulator uses printed-circuit boards and utilizes various electronic systems. For example: the characteristics
of the engines are carried electronically on one circuit board. If another engine with an extra 500 horsepower is
to be inserted, the old engine circuit board is removed and the new one plugged in. This way "engines" can be switched
in only half an hour.
A room behind the cockpit section is lined with tall, grey cabinets. On the left are
racks holding various amplifiers and other electronic gear. On the right are small circuit boards and motors with
spinning dials. Under each unit is a label: Fuel Flow, Bank, Altitude, etc. The computer essentially takes a rate
of change, integrates it, and tells the crew through cockpit motion or instrument readings just what is happening.
In the TV room there is a model airport made to scale mounted on a
long wall. A television camera is mounted on two tracks which run the length of the model airport. The model is built
to a three-hundred- to-one scale, and represents an area 21,000 feet by 3000 feet. The TV camera is connected to the
computer system. If the pilot dives, the camera tilts down. If he climbs, the camera tilts up. It follows every motion
of the airplane, so it sees what the pilot would see. The picture is then flashed on the screen in front of the pilot.
A television projector is located on top of the DC-8 simulator cockpit. And the televised picture from the
map room is projected onto a motion picture screen which covers the visible area viewed by the pilots in training.
The DC-8 simulator gives to the public a well-trained, proficient crew. This flying team practices and "polishes"
on the ground. When the Jetliners are put into operation, the passengers can be sure that the pilot and his crew have
many hours of simulated and actual flying time under their belts. The simulator offers safety through practice.
"Brain" of the simulator. Two rows of electronic devices
comprise the analog computers
In addition to literally thousands of electron tubes and
resistors, the "brain" contains
100 servo motor-generator
sets, 540 amplifiers and 2200 gears.