Flying the Joint Strike Fighter Engineering Simulator

While I was at Lockheed Martin in Forth Worth, Texas, earlier this year I got the chance to fly the Joint Strikefighter (F35 Lightning II) Engineering Flight Simulator. Since I was part of the design team (System Engineer) for the Motion System of this unique flight simulator I know this system quite well and this was actually the second time that I got to fly it. Of course the cockpit was partly switched off for security reasons, but primary flight controls where available and kept me busy enough.

Normally, fighter simulators do not use motion systems, since the accelerations in the aircraft cannot nearly be reached by a normal hexapod motion system. The F35 however also comes in a version with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities (STOVL), where the accelerations are much more moderate. The vertical landing part is also a very critical phase in the flight envelope, which requires the avionincs to work together with the pilot to stabilize the aircraft. To test various avionics setups in the simulator and accurately involve the pilot in this closed-loop experiment, the F35 Engineering Simulator does require a very fast motion system.

The capabilities of the motion system are substantial, especially the high roll rates of up to 40 degrees per second and the large excursions required an optimized hexapod design. Engineering such a high performance hydraulic motion system also brings particular challenges, such as the extremely high accelerations that can occur when the servovalves close suddenly. Therefore, for this system a new servovalve setup was developed to reduce the peak forces while keeping the nominal system reponse at the desired levels.

Flying this simulator can only be described as being awesome. I consider myself very lucky to have flown it a couple of times and I feel proud to have designed this angry beast of a motion system.

(Thanks to Lockheed Martin for providing this picture)

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