Aerospace Engineering Department
BS in Aerospace Engineering
Over the past two decades performance flight testing of full scale aircraft has transferred some of the testing workload to simulation based systems. Flight testing full scale aircraft in the real world environment has always been expensive, especially now with the rise in aviation fuel costs. Additionally, new emerging technologies require extensive testing and doing so in the full scale environment is cost prohibitive. A cheaper alternative is to test systems in a simulation based environment. Not only can aircraft be simulated via a computer, but all the aircrafts systems can be modeled in the simulation. Furthermore, most of the aircraft systems, such as avionics and sensors, can be directly built into the simulation just as they would be on the actual aircraft. The purpose of this report is to review the progression of flight simulation technology, flight testing procedures, and conduct a series of flight tests to compare the data between the actual aircraft in flight with two simulators readily available to the general public. The two simulators considered are X-Plane 9 by Laminar Research and Flight Simulator X from Microsoft. Each simulator uses a different approach to creating the simulated environment. X-Plane uses an engineering process called “Blade Element Theory”, while Microsoft Flight Simulator X uses the more traditional stability derivative method. In order to compare the accuracy of each of these simulations, three flight tests were conducted in each simulator and in the actual aircraft. A Cessna 172SP was the aircraft used in each of the tests. The three tests conducted were flight path stability, stall, and steady turns. Comparing the results, the simulations produced data very similar to that of the actual tests; however, the data did not suggest that either simulation was more accurate than the other. The only distinction between the two simulators that could be made was evident in their user interfaces and ease of operation. Overall, the results obtained in this paper illustrate the effectiveness of the modern flight simulator as an effective testing and design tool.