Aviation computer-based training

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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.

In 1991 I created a computer-based training program (for PCs) titled Hang Gliding Ground School. It was reviewed in issue 4 of PC Player magazine.

 

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.)

These programs ran under DOS 3.3 and used the 16-color VGA at 640 x 350 pixels. I used that pixel resolution rather than the otherwise preferable 640 x 480 because the former resolution 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.


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. Amazingly, 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.

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…

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