A New Real-Time Flight Simulator for Military Training Using Mechatronics and Cyber-Physical System Methods, IntechOpen

A New Real-Time Flight Simulator for Military Training Using Mechatronics and Cyber-Physical System Methods

By César Villacís, Walter Fuertes, Luis Escobar, Fabián Romero and Santiago Chamorro

Submitted: September 11th 2018 Reviewed: April 29th 2019 Published: July 5th 2019


So far, the aeronautical industry has developed flight simulators and space disorientation with high costs. This chapter focuses on the design and implementation process of a low-cost real-time flight simulator for the training of armed force pilots using mathematical models of flight physics. To address such concern, the mathematical models of a Cessna type aircraft have been developed. This has been followed by a flight simulator, which operated with a new construction using a Stewart scale platform and operated by a joystick. Specifically, the simulator has been developed using an approximation of a physical cyber-system and a mechatronic design methodology that consists of mechanical, electrical and electronic elements that control the Stewart platform with three degrees of freedom. Based on software engineering, the algorithms of mathematical and physical models have been developed. These have been used to create an interactive flight simulator of an aircraft based on the Unity 3D game engine platform. The performance of the algorithms has been evaluated, using threads and processes to handle the communication and data transmission of the flight simulator to the Stewart platform. The evaluation of the developed simulator has been validated with professional pilots drilled with the Microsoft Flight Simulator. The results demonstrated that this flight simulator stimulates the development of skills and abilities for the maneuver and control of an aircraft.


  • flight simulator
  • mathematical models of aircraft
  • flight training
  • Stewart platform
  • real time simulation
  • mechatronics
  • cyber-physical system
  • kinematic control

chapter and author info


César Villacís

  • Computer Sciences Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • Mechanical and Energy Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • Walter Fuertes *

    • Computer Sciences Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
    • Mechanical and Energy Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • Luis Escobar

    • Computer Sciences Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
    • Mechanical and Energy Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • Fabián Romero

    • Computer Sciences Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
    • Mechanical and Energy Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • Santiago Chamorro

    • Computer Sciences Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
    • Mechanical and Energy Department, University of the Army Forces-ESPE, Ecuador
  • *Address all correspondence to: [email protected]

    From the Edited Volume

    Edited by George Dekoulis

    1. Introduction

    Modern flight simulators meet two main aviation objectives: (1) to provide pilot training at the instructor’s level, and at the student’s level to learn to fly and to earn virtual flight hours that are useful for flying real aircrafts and (2) to simulate normal flight conditions, as well as adverse situations and spatial disorientation such as navigation instrument faults, power losses, loss of control of the aircraft, confusion illusion of references, illusion of the effect of black holes, among others, that would be dangerous and even catastrophic in a real flight; so, they must be well analyzed, controlled, and learned.

    Real flight simulators with full movement generate movements and images where pilots feel an almost 100% level of realism of what would happen in a real plane. These simulators combine a series of technological aspects such as the Stewart platforms that reproduce real-time movements of the simulator software at hardware level and allow stimulating the visual and vestibular system of the pilots, reaching a maximum level of knowledge of various types of favorable and adverse situations and spatial illusions.

    The main objective of this research was to design and build a flight simulator as a cyber-physical system, both at the software level and at the hardware level; based on mathematical models and programming algorithms that allow us to recreate a Cessna 172 type airplane in a virtual world and to prove its correct functioning. For that purpose, the Unity 3D gaming engine has been used as a developmental tool, together with the LabVIEW graphical programming environment to access the hardware and data information of the built-in Stewart platform with three degrees of freedom.

    The flight simulator as a cyber-physical system composed of software and hardware was evaluated in terms of its functionality with a group of Ecuadorian aviation pilots who met basic training flight hours with the Cessna 172 and the ENAER T-35 Pillan, and also met virtual flight hours using a personalized license from Microsoft Flight Simulator.

    The main contributions of this study were: (a) design of a mathematical model of front velocity, vertical velocity and lateral velocity of an airplane, as well as the application of the physical forces involved in an airplane such as lift, weight, thrust, and drag; (b) implementation of a dynamic Cyber-physical system, where the Mechatronic system was part of it and consisted of a software flight simulator programmed with the UNITY 3D framework. It allowed to include 3D objects such as terrains, buildings, airplanes, cities, sea, etc.; as well as, to model the cockpit in 3D as it looks in the reality and a Stewart platform (hardware) to scale with three degrees of freedom that reproduces the movements of the simulator plane in relation to the roll, pitch, and yaw, operated by a joystick.

    This research has been organized as follows: Section 2 talks about the mechatronics systems design based in V-Model. Then, Section 3 explains about mathematical foundations of Stewart-Gough Platform with 3-DOF. Later, the flight simulator construction has been clarified in Section 4. Next, Section 5 presents the experimental results. Finally, Section 6 gives the conclusions and future work.

    2. Mechatronics systems design based in V-Model

    2.1 Philosophy

    The philosophy of designing mechatronic systems has evolved over the years along with its definition, applications, and boundaries. Since its origins, mechatronics has tried to analyze systems holistically, with a synergic point of view integrating heterogeneous components (mechanics, electronics, and informatics) and subsystems to create more complex systems. This method requires a development that delivers products independently of their domains.

    The V-Model allows the design and development of complex mechatronic systems with an interdisciplinary approach, where the VDI guideline 2206 can be applied to obtain systems that are more flexible and adaptable to the needs of users [1]. This model considers different factors, components, and the synergistic behavior of the different parts of a mechatronic product and its integration.

    The implementation of mechatronic systems has a great reception in the military area. The development of vehicles is one of the most obvious examples due to the high variety of functions that must be fulfilled, according to [2] the idea of using mechatronic systems in the design of combat vehicles arrived with the twenty-first century when the basic architecture of electric and electronic components was developed, a clear example of these systems can be observed in [3, 4].

    The framework given for that methodology has as main objective to generate a product based on the client requirements. In order to accomplish their requirements, the characteristic method to design and develop mechatronic systems is composed of four phases: (1) requirements phase—requirements and specifications analysis is customer oriented and defines the start and end of the project; (2) functional characteristics phase—the functions that are directly or indirectly visible by the user are defined; (3) design phase—the hardware and software components are defined, as well as the architecture of the system; (4) implementation phase—all the unit elements or system programming modules are developed [5]. Then, in the present study, this methodology contributed in the design and implementation of hardware for a simulator.

    2.2 Cyber-physical system (CPS)

    Cyber-physical system (CPS) is a new concept around the revolution of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Embedded Systems, and it refers to the integration of computing, data networks and physical processes to become intelligent objects that can cooperate with each other, forming distributed and autonomous systems. A CPS can include several disciplines related to software (Systems Engineering, Computation, Communication, and Control) and hardware (Industrial Engineering, Mechanical, Electrical, and Electronic) [4].

    Nowadays, thanks to the internet of things, there is a greater development of products that have computing and communication. These products need an intimate coupling between the cyber and physical components and will be presented in the nano at large-scale world. CPS may be considered a confluence of embedded, real-time and distributed sensor systems as well as control [6, 7].

    As it can be seen in the military [8] the modeling of present physical systems has several challenges, such is the case of fuel tanks in airplanes. Maintaining a correct monitoring of the level of fuel is a complex job since it requires the use of several sensors and the consideration of several external factors, but when generating a solution with CPS has advantages in the monitoring of it that helps to prevent accidents such as the case of Air Transat Flight on August 23, 2001; where due to a maintenance failure, the aircraft was left without fuel for the landing. This type of systems can be implemented in various systems of military vehicles such as jet aircraft, helicopters, etc.

    By having a CPS, it is possible not only to monitor, but to implement an autonomous control; this can be done in any sector such as factories, transportation, aerospace, buildings and environmental control, process control, critical infrastructure, and healthcare. As indicated by [9], CPS projections will have a great impact in a wide variety of areas, and [10] states that Networked autonomous vehicles could dramatically enhance the effectiveness of the military and could offer substantially more effective disaster recovery techniques.

    The biggest opportunity for implementing CPS is given by the opportunity to decrease costs and simultaneously increase capacity of sensors and actuators; in addition to the access to high capacity, smaller formed computing devices, wireless communication, increased bandwidth and continuous improvements in energy. The advantages and opportunities offered by the cyber-physical systems (CPS) have allowed innovation and improvement of the principles of engineering as Rajkumar mentioned in his research [9]. One of the main challenges that arises in the design and development of cyber-physical systems is the development of new methods of science and system design engineering to obtain a CPS that is compatible, reliable, integrated and synergistic in all the five-layers of functionality architecture with other cyber-physical systems. This research contributes to the design, development and implementation of a CPS following engineering principles.

    2.3 Mechatronics and CPS

    Naturally CPS and mechatronics systems are different, each one follows different goals, but its subtle differences characteristics make those systems complementary; since CPS consider the mechatronic system as an integral part of them. Table 1 shows the differences between mechatronic systems and CPS.

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