While researching examples of interesting patents, I came across the picture of one of the earliest flight simulators. Being an avid sailplane enthusiast, I couldn’t resist further investigation. I found that this drawing was created in 1917 in support of a German patent application that was filed in the United States in 1919 and entitled:
It describes suspending an entire bi-plane in a gimbal to permit movement along all three axis’. Using the backwash from the engine’s propeller as motive force, the pilot would actuate the flight surfaces and cause the airplane to yaw and pitch. Below the contraption, support personnel would unfurl a map at various speeds simulating different altitudes and to render a more realistic experience to the pilot. This training device was used to help pilots familiarize themselves with targeting objects on the ground with their fuselage mounted guns as well as observers to get their timing correct while dropping bombs from varying ‘heights’. All-in-all, quite ingenious….
Why is this relevant? Sailplanes have minimal instrumentation and are really fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants aircraft. When coming in for a landing, many times of which may not be desirable or predictable (remember that sailplanes don’t have any engines and remain up only by the ability of the pilot to harness the sun’s energy for lift), you are judging your landing in a farmer’s field by using your Mark 1 Eyeball – getting the distance and height correct is absolutely vital to walking away unharmed and being able to use your aircraft for another flight! There are no go-arounds unlike in a powered aircraft.
For those of you interested to learn more about soaring and sailplanes, I encourage to visit my club’s website -> Windy City Soaring Association. We are open April through November and provide demonstration rides to the public.