BRUSSELS A Belgian company has unveiled the ultimate fighter jet training tool, a fully immersive 360-degree flight simulator designed to reproduce reality exactly as a pilot sees it.
The dome is the first flight simulator to give trainee pilots a full unobstructed 360 degree view of the world as they conduct virtual missions, said Barco, a maker of high-definition projectors and displays.
"It's not an improvement, it's a new generation of simulators," Geert Matthys, research and development manager at the company, said.
"If a pilot has a cockpit where he can see 360 degrees, he also needs to be trained in a system which supplies 360 degrees, all deviation from real life can be dangerous," said Matthys.
The simulator can be used in a series, with several pilots working together to play out complex training missions such as mid-air refueling.
"For the first application there will be eight systems positioned next to each other and they will do mission training with each other," said project manager Kathy Verledens.
It can also train up pilots for solo sorties.
The development team has taken since 2009 to get the device just right.
An array of 13 high-definition projectors shine onto the outside of a 3.4 meter diameter acrylic sphere. The trainee pilot sits on the inside looking at the inner surface.
The dome, which can be used to train pilots to use a variety of fast fighter jets, was first sold to Elbit Systems, which is currently installing it with its customer, the Israeli Air Force. The system should be fully operational in 2012.
Barco engineers use lasers to line up the 10 megapixel projectors so that the different projected images are perfectly aligned.
One of the main technical challenges was to replicate the exact contrast that a pilot sees, stopping the brightness of the image throwing too much light onto the darker areas.
"In general use you have 50 percent of your dome filled with white, but in a dome all this white reaches other parts of the dome where you have black, so it's acting as ambient light," said Matthys.
"We take care of the reflections in such a way that the system contrast is kept to a high level and this, in combination with high resolution and high brightness over 360 degrees, is a breakthrough in the industry."
(Reporting By Ben Deighton, editing by Paul Casciato)