A level-D full motion simulator costs probably north of $15 million. Outside, it stands on eight feet of hydraulic rams. Inside, it's the actual cockpit of the real plane, only wired up to massive server computers and air conditioned with nipple shattering cold. A sign of things to come.
When pilots go in to the box, they practice emergencies and other crazy-high workload situations. They usually come out red-faced and sweating all over their business casual polo shirts, having been worked over. Seriously. The air conditioning is on high for a reason.
Here's how the story unfolds. A number of years ago on a weekend, my company added training for the first-officer which involved additional functions to be done specifically by them. Some switches could only be used by the Captain but I couldn't use them while the plane was moving, etc. Really the reasons were all red-tape office management decisions and solutions. Anyway, I had to taxi all over the 'virtual' airport while the instructor was leaning forward between our seats giving the lesson to the First-Officer.
"Just taxi around the place while I teach him how to do this."
"Anywhere?" I asked.
"Yeah, wherever you want."
Hmmm, "I'm going to the FBO, they have better food at least."
While I taxi about. Rounding corners wherever I please and visiting ramp space I never get to see at the real places I go, I realize...right there...briefly...it slipped. The visuals didn't match up to...oh my god the plane is sliding! Now, there is programming to simulate bad weather such as snow on the ground and affect handling and braking, but this was the BACK of the plane coming around instead of the nose gear plowing ahead in to the grass. If things go really poorly, you can spin the plane and then the instructor resets the sim and you try that maneuver again. hopefully you learned something. I counter-steered. Opposite lock in a fifty-seat jet. I smiled and thought about the feelings. I learned something else today. Limitations of programming realism.
The simulator doesn't really simulate side loading very well, in fact standing outside during a training event, waiting for the poor victims inside to finish, and knowing what they are doing inside, the box-on-stilts isn't close to doing what the plane is visually going through inside. It moves to make you feel something else. Faking G-loads with visuals can totally induce vertigo and it messes with your inner ear balance to make you feel like the real thing is happening. Case in point, a landing has the box pushed up even higher and tilted forward about forty-five degrees in a single second to simulate landing impact and maximum braking. Inside I have no idea that happened, it feels like i'm pushed into my shoulder straps like i'm actually hard on the brakes-as well as the impact from a crap landing because this sim's ability to replicate real landing feel is total B.S.
I entered the next corner with purpose and I was absolutely lurid on exit. Powersliding on to the runway would have been awesome from an external view. Sadly none existed. I couldn't help but giggle a bit at what I found. In the past, sim training for foul weather or during single engine/emergencies, spinning the plane off in to the grass does make the box move a bit when it comes to a stop, as well as bouncing it a little to simulate the fact you are in a field with broken gear. In reality this would be followed by quite a bit more paperwork to do and a complimentary drug-test. All I had to do was plainly enjoy some nice little slides here and there and the sim would never be put in the grass. Training continues.
Company Instructor (who I've known for a few years now): "Having a bit of fun?"
Smiling Me: "Oh hell yes I am." as I'm about half-tiller in to a right correction. "Oh,...I got it..." My wrist is torqued over. Planes generally steer on the ground with a tiller (hand crank) if they're near 20,000 pounds or more. The computer had us set at 41,000 pounds making for a nice sliiiiiide. We were strapped in to our seats but nobody was resisting motion or being thrown about. This sim sucked at simming!
Chuckling company Instructor: "You should probably stop. (name erased but a more senior check airman) is coming in to the building some time today. I have no idea what this thing looks like from the outside."
First-Officer: Shakes his head. Smiling. Fresh full of knowledge of the new procedures that he knew anyway but was not permitted to use until having this official experience.
He was right. I'm positive they never thought of power-sliding a jet through a series of taxiway chicanes, like the triangle from an Asteroids arcade game, as part of the design criteria. This was my inner eight-year-old. If there's any way a kid can use anything NOT for it's intended purpose, he will do so and usually break it. I didn't want to do that. Time to lean back towards being an adult.
Drifting the sim doesn't really feel like a real drift in a car and the sim certainly did not reflect it properly. I thought about the silly and thought it could look like it was all twisted up underneath like it's waiting for it's own hydraulic bathroom break. It didn't. It was just giving the occasional twitch up to it's own pre-set limits so I felt something was happening.
The real Embraer-145 would never be able to do that. I'm not ever going to try. Besides I don't fly that one anymore. There is, however, not much ground effect to work with so the real thing, more often than not, did land like hard crap unless you finesse it well. Perhaps it's a good simulator after all.