Reaching New Heights

The Merlin MP521 flight simulator on UD's campus.  The Merlin MP521 flight simulator on UD's campus.

UD ‘Flyers’ have new meaning with new flight simulator

By Tim Walker

The Merlin MP521 flight simulator on UD's campus.

A young college student sits in a chair and concentrates, a joystick in her hand, her face illuminated by several monitors. She checks a grouping of digital gauges and displays and carefully manipulates a series of sensitive controls, all while communicating with another student halfway across the globe through a shared high-speed internet connection.

What is this? Call of Duty? World of Warcraft? A lonely coed on a Saturday night employing the latest in virtual reality dating software?
None of the above. This is Jasmine Kashani, a 21-year-old college student, testing an original design for a new aircraft by attempting to fly it on a flight simulator. The interesting thing about this particular simulator, the Merlin MP521, is that it resides at the University of Dayton and is the only one located in the U.S.

Merlin Flight Simulation Group, a UK-based company, already had 15 university clients in the UK when they began installing the new simulator at UD’s College Park Center, the former NCR building on Brown Street, in November 2010. “Students can look at aircraft handling the way a test pilot does,” said Merlin managing director Christopher Neal. The system, he said, is similar to what Boeing and Airbus use in evaluating aircraft design.

“The Merlin Flight Simulator is specifically designed for academic settings,” he said. “Not to be confused with a flight training device, this Engineering Flight Simulator is for learning about flight and the design knowledge that goes into producing an aircraft type.”

Although it was designed originally to teach the subjective aspects of flight, “the simulators are also used in all aspects of aircraft design-related principles from the classic stability and control evaluation through to cockpit ergonomics, systems engineering and avionics.”

The simulator is a fully enclosed capsule on a motion base, with an external instructor’s station. The unit features a six-axis hydraulic micro motion system, two 17” LCD screens – one of which is a touch screen – for the main instrument panel, four additional screens for visual display and ancillary controls, a sidestick, throttles and rudder pedals. The visual display may also be viewed simultaneously on a large screen in a lecture theater or laboratory, thus providing the perfect medium for teaching a large group of students. Two or more simulators may be configured to fly within the same visual scene for research of airport approach and traffic patterns, and even formation flying.

Aaron Altman, UD mechanical and aerospace associate professor and director of the graduate program in aerospace engineering, will use the simulator in his introduction to flight, graduate aerospace design and undergraduate aerospace design courses.

“I can completely change the geometry, inertia, mass, configuration, layout, aerodynamic, flight dynamic, propulsion and structural properties of airplanes modeled by the simulator,” Altman said. “What better way to teach students than to have them design their own airplane and then try to fly it?”

Kashani, a junior in Mechanical Engineering at UD, is understandably excited about the opportunity to work with the new simulator. “The flight simulator that we have at UD is one of 16 in the world and the only one in the U.S. It benefits us because the mechanical engineers with an aero focus have the opportunity to design different planes and program them into the simulator and then fly them,” she said in an interview. “It really helps give us a hands on experience that we normally wouldn’t get in class. Getting the opportunity to work with the simulator is amazing, and it is a very fun experience to try to fly a plane and see if you can land it. But I think that it is just another great benefit to our department.”

The new simulator will be a major fixture of an upcoming aircraft design competition to be held at UD. The IT FLIES USA Competition 2011 will be held on Saturday, April 2 at UD’s School of Engineering. The competition is open to college students from all over the country and the entries will be judged on the best aircraft design and how well the designs perform in simulated flight. The design awarded first prize will win $1,000 … more than the cost of the original Wright B Flyer. Wilbur and Orville would have been proud.

Reach DCP freelance writer Timothy Walker at timwalker@daytoncitypaper.com.

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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