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CMU becomes home to state-of-the-art simulator

Sara Byks
Flight simulator cockpit under construction

Central Michigan University plans to be flying sky high, without ever leaving the ground. The University is now home to a new flight simulator that will help pilots and researchers improve their skills.

On a visit to the simulator computer science professor, Alex Redei, sits me at a desk with a computer screen and a joystick console that looks like a video game setup. After quickly learning the controls, I learned that I should never be a pilot. 


Redei also runs an on-campus flight simulator. The large machine is 15.5 feet tall, 18 feet long, 12 feet wide and comes in at a hefty 6,000 pounds of steel. The rig looks like a ride you could find at a county fair, but Redei said the technology involved is doing high-tech calculations


“So everything you are doing here is being calculated aerodynamically, based on the powers of the engines, and calculates out how would the aircraft respond in the real world.”


Redei said he built the research vessel over the course of two years with his own money, but didn’t disclose the cost. He said most simulators cost millions of dollars, his uses most of the same tech, but is only a fraction of the cost. 


Redei came to Central Michigan University this past February and brought his simulator along with him where it now sits in the Department of Science and Engineering.


Although pilots using the simulator never leave the ground, the feeling is sky high. Pilots are in the machine feel the same effects as if they were in an aircraft. Redei said the project will help advance research and training. 


“We are doing really interesting research in different types of maneuvers and how you learn those maneuvers and how can we better teach those maneuvers with a platform like this. You want to train in this type of stuff, if you are an aerobatic pilot then you can do that. And that is not something you can go to other simulators to do.” 


The simulator works to give pilots practice in simulations that are almost exactly like the real thing.


Imagine you are working at your computer. You have to send a few emails ... read through some memos ... seems like an easy day right? Well what if you have to do all of that while working upside down. Unless you have had time to practice, your productivity may take a hit. 


Now imagine your office is thirty thousand feet in the air. 


Redei said researching how pilots work and respond to different emergency simulations could help prevent crashes like Alaska Airlines Flight 261, that crashed in 2000. 


The jet was flying off the coast of L.A. when it experienced a critical failure. The plane had a jack screw that controlled its wings, but the jackscrew failed and the aircraft ended up spinning uncontrollably. Eventually, pilots got the craft stabilized but they were upside down. Redei said the pilots never had experience flying a craft like that


“That is not something they have been trained on, that is not something their simulators are capable of accurately simulating those kinds of motions.” 


Redei said it’s situations like the Alaskan Airlines Flight that make his research is necessary. He said simulators can recreate situations like inverted flight to help pilots practice in emergency situations and by researching how pilots respond to those situations can lead to new training practices


Redei said tragic incidents like the recent Boeing 737 crashes could be used to research preventative measures in the future. He said if he had the crash data he could research how the pilots responded to the emergencies in the cockpit.


“If we had the telemetry data we could recreate the LionAir and Ethipian crashes. Maybe through that experience we could learn something about the situation in the cockpit and make better software to make pilots more aware of software malfunctions happening.”


Redei said data from the two crashes could be used to research better ways to train pilots to prevent future crashes.


 He said there are unique learning opportunities in Mid-Michigan for people working in the aviation community and for students looking towards a high-flying future. 


“Over here (in Mid-Michigan) I see a bunch of little municipal airports. I think there is a lot of interesting stuff that we can do to incorporate this into a science lesson for middle schoolers.” 


Redei said the simulator will be ready in October. He said he is excited to introduce it to students and aviators in the Mid-Michigan area.