Flight Sim Expo 2021: Seminar Highlights
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
The post-event impression of Flight Sim Expo 2021 is impactful. Though Skyward staff was unable to travel in person to the event because of a last-minute decision related to health concerns, we enjoyed many of the seminars live from September 24th-26th, 2021.
Of course, the headline-grabbing events that came out of FSE were related to the big projects and upcoming products from respected companies. Thrustmaster, Turtle Beach, Honeycomb Aeronautical, Laminar Research, Flight Factor, and Lockheed Martin all had considerable panels. The announcement of X-Plane 12, the first military aviation-focused Hands-On Throttle and Stick from Honeycomb Aeronautical, Thrustmaster's the first civilian yoke, and further details on the all-in-one civilian yoke and throttle quadrant from Turtle Beach are the first things that come to mind when discussing Flight Sim Expo 2021.
However, this event was more than just a podium for product announcements. FSE 2021 has 30 seminars; each is available as videos on-demand until November 28th, 2021.
Obviously, all of those were not product announcement panels. Many panels gave down-to-earth explanations to various aspects of flight simulation for simmers of all levels; from recently started simmers focused on home entertainment to civilian and military aviation industry individuals pushing concepts that challenge the current state of aviation training.
I feel as though Flight Sim Expo 2021 broadened my knowledge in many ways while raising my interest in more advanced forms of flight simulation. Viewing this event through the lens of someone that participates in various levels of seriousness in arcade and realistic flight simming, I believe that the benefit of an event like this is to act as a springboard. As something that propels the attendee forward within this particular passion of theirs.
Advancing the Mindset of Flight Simulation-Based Training
This was a major topic that appeared in multiple seminars in one form or another. As the looming pilot shortage situation continues to build in both civilian and military aviation, the use of simulators to maximize airframe flight hours, increase pilot trainee retention and restructure flight training and the culture around it to incorporate much more flight simulation was a forefront topic for multiple seminars. While flight simulation has been used for instrument training for decades now, the use of flight simulators for primary training is still a contested topic.
"Practical Simulator Use as a Training Aid" by Gleim Aviation and "Using PC-Based Simulators for Fun and/or Flight Training" by Ed Valdez (President, and CEO of ProPilot Aviation), gave a professional view of flight simulation training in all levels of civilian aviation. Seeing examples of FAA-approved simulators interwoven with real-world video of skills learned on simulators in action was illuminating. It put in perspective how it is possible to construct high-caliber simulators in smaller venues. In the past, this type of technology was only available in military installations or aviation training facilities.
"Can Consumer Flight Sim Impact Real Aviation?" with Nicki Repenning (CEO, Honeycomb Aeronautical), is a seminar probably best known for the new flight sim hardware that was announced at the end of it. But a large portion of this seminar was dedicated to challenging the existing approach to flight training. This was a comprehensive look at flight training from a realistic and straightforward point of view backed by examples of real-world flight training programs incorporating flight simulation to make up at least half of the training syllabus both in the flight schools and from their own home. From the perception of piloting from being sexy and fun to becoming "glorified bus drivers," an emphasis on changing the existing prejudice against flight simulation in training and preparing the next generation of pilots was clear. Nicki Repenning announced The Flight Sim Academy powered by Honeycomb Aeronautical, which aims to establish flight training centers in the 30 largest metropolitan areas in North America. Crown Air Aviation, the EAA, and AOPA have already expressed interest or are involved. It's a bold but achievable concept more should learn about.
"The New Era of Military Flight Training" by Major Kinsley "Trigger" Jordan (Chief of Innovation for the United States Air Force) dug deep into how the military is exploring more extensive use of flight simulation and reforming pilot training as a whole. This was an energetic and refreshing voice from the military training perspective. There were many great takeaways from this session, and it showed how the military could and is effectively incorporating flight simulation in arguably one of the most dangerous forms of aviation on the planet.
This was further supported by the seminar "Lightning Strikes - Development of the F-35 Flight Demonstration" by Billie Flynn (ICE Leadership and F-35 Test Pilot), who created and flew the memorable debut of the F-35 flight demonstration at the 2017 Paris Airshow. To learn that this demo was designed and flown hundreds of times, primarily in a simulator over the course of nine months with a data-driven approach utilizing information from F-35 engineering teams, was eye-opening. Not only for those watching the display but apparently for personnel in the Lockheed Martin, United States Air Force, and the Pentagon as well. More information on that is provided within the seminar.
HOME COCKPIT CONSTRUCTION
For many, the idea of a home cockpit is simultaneously awe-inspiring and daunting. A few seminars gave a more casual approach to learning about these systems and the process needed to create them and maintain them.
"Your First DIY Home Cockpit Component" by Jon Coughlin (Game Developer, Slitherine Games), was a casual introduction to home cockpit-related fabrication. This is something that I think is needed when home cockpits are discussed since most people only see the finished product. With his game Roger Meatball and a tutorial in constructing the "Mini-Meatball", a homemade instrument representing a fresnel lens optical landing system, it acts as a leap-off point for simmers interested in getting more hands-on with their flight gear.
"Home Cockpit Construction" by Pat Fuge (Joinava.org, KSAN Simflite), was one of a handful of seminars that focused on home cockpits, but this was by far the most casual and heartfelt presentation about this subject. This presenter was open about how costly, complicated, and potentially restrictive these elaborate setups can be with easy-to-understand explanations of design concepts for hardware and software needed to make these setups work. This seminar made home cockpit creation easier to understand and more approachable.
REVALUATING A START IN FLIGHT SIMULATION
As odd as this may sound, sometimes taking a step back to reevaluate how you view flight simulation as a whole is a great way to find a new perspective. "Getting Started in Flight Simulation" by Calum Martin (CEO, Founder of SoFly, Content Director, Co-Founder of FSElite) is geared towards new simmers. Its approach from the ground up started with identifying the wants and needs of a simmer, palatable explanations of the strengths and differences between the three major PC-based flight simulators (Microsoft Flight Simulator, Prepar3D, and X-Plane 11), and information for getting started on where to buy these simulators, resources to enhance them and connect with others and information on developers who continue to support and expand these platforms. There are a few important notes about constructing a PC capable of handling flight simulation in a quality that makes it stable and enjoyable and controls hardware (flight sticks, yokes, rudder pedals, etc.). Setting aside any preconceptions I had about certain sims and viewing them from the mindset of a newcomer has certainly stoked my interest in simulators I may have had little interest in.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.