On my first day at Avalon Airshow 2009, the FlightPathTV.com film crew I was with spent about 3 hours in Lockheed’s F35 simulator. During this time, Ken from Lockheed (one of their human/computer interface team members) was working with a RAAF Air Commodore as he flew the aircraft through some example encounters. We also filmed Ken as he explained the F35’s systems, the cockpit interface and the STOVL version’s features.
What a freakin’ incredible piece of equipment the F35 is!
First up, there’s no HUD. All the information from the HUD is displayed on the pilot’s helmet, along with plenty of other information as required. The helmet’s movements are tracked and the displays adjust accordingly.
The main panel consists of two large LCD displays that appear almost as one. The panel can show any of the multiple information screens in any combination of sizes and positions with the pilot touching points on the screens to resize them, move them around and so on. There is a constant one inch high band across the top of the panel that has the information screens represented in miniature (with other information as well). Just touching one of the representations brings that screen up on the panel.
When a pilot enters the aircraft, they slot a mission cartridge into the system that contains information about the mission, munitions and the pilot’s default preferences for screen layouts. So, when the pilot turns the aircraft on, everything they like is all ready to go for them.
Throw in the sensor suite that includes infra-red cameras around the aircraft and you have an amazingly powerful real world display. In addition to showing on the panel, the sensor suite’s information can be displayed on the pilot’s helmet. Combine this with the movement tracker and the pilot can see a synthetic vision view of the world around them – like looking *through* the cockpit floor, wings, weather, etc. Simply amazing.
Being the IT geek I am (as well as an aviation geek), I was drooling at how well this interface worked. As if that weren’t enough, though, we were also shown how the computerised flight controls made it a LOT easier to focus on WHAT a pilot is doing rather than HOW they are doing it.
Say the pilot wants to initiate a 50 degree climb – they use the side-stick to put the nose where they want, set the throttle and then let go. The computers will keep the aircraft going where the pilot’s said. Total no brainer. The system takes the developments of the past decades and brings them into one incredible package.
There was, of course, more to it than this but I was still reeling from what I’d seen in front of me. I would have loved to jump in and go through the demo routine but we’d already been in there two hours and Carlo & Fletch had both had goes, so I didn’t want to overstay our welcome.
I’ve loaded some of the photos I took inside the simulator room into the F35 demo album on the gallery. Other photos from my two days at Avalon are also being uploaded into the Avalon Airshow 2009 album. Enjoy :)