When it comes to buying that perfect gift for your aviation mad partner or indeed for yourself, you may be wondering, what is the difference between fixed base and full motion flight simulators? Which is the best experience for you?
You may look at the price tag of a full motion experience and wonder quite why there is a such a difference between it and the fixed base variety. Whether you are from the home sim hobby or just have always wanted to be an airline pilot, this article will point out the subtle and not so subtle differences so that you can make a more informed decision for the next step in your interest.
What is a fixed base flight simulator?
A fixed base or static flight simulator doesn’t move. They will use visual trickery and sound effects to make you think that you were moving, we have known people to swear they were in motion and even feel a little uneasy on their feet afterwards. If you are in a fixed base simulator with a wrap around screen, then you will find that it is really quite immersive, you may forget that the chair and indeed the entire cockpit you are in are bolted to the ground and immobile.
Across the UK you will find various versions of a fixed base simulator for different aircraft ranging from commercial aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 to older options including Spitfire and the Lancaster Bomber. Should you want to have a simulator like this yourself it can set you back anywhere from £50-150k depending on the level of detail and functionality you want it to have.
Our pilots have been fortunate enough to have tried many of these options and you must be aware that some are more realistic than others. When it comes to the immersion by way of the visuals and sounds, the software being used to portray that can make quite a difference. Some of the options will keep their software up to date, more so than others, meaning that the graphics will be pixel perfect as you fly past the strip and into Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. Of course, it can go the other way too. One example that comes to mind had software so old that it was pixelated to the point of distraction and the Las Vegas strip didn’t have any casinos on it!
The ideal situation would be for the cockpits to closely match the aircraft. Again, depending on the choice of company that you choose, they may or may not be identical. There will also be cases where all of the buttons, knobs and switches aren’t actually configured with the software so adjusting them may not do anything.
Hopefully the take away here is that, as with anything … there is going to be a difference between the experiences depending on the amount that you know and the level of realism that you want to achieve. The company I referred to before actually do well as most of their customers don’t know any different and are just excited to be in a cockpit. You may also see a reflection of the realism and cockpit operational status in the price that you pay, and why not? If they have pumped some money into making the experience as good as possible, why shouldn’t they charge a little more for it?
It is a competitive space, particularly as you head north up the M1, but this can work in your favour as deals are usually available for the more expensive options across the year. You can expect to spend anywhere from £80 to £140 for an hour in a fixed base simulator.
What is a full motion flight simulator?
A full motion simulator moves. You may believe I am starting each of these sections in a rather sarcastic way but actually, in this case particularly – the level of movement does need explaining. There are fewer options for a full motion flight simulator in the UK when compared to fixed base and the differences between are just as varied.
Full motion flight simulator experiences are advertised as such even though they may be different in the way that they move. When you look in a search engine for “Full Motion Flight Simulator” you will find several options varying from sitting in a chair that moves, a cockpit that is on a platform that moves and a piece of machinery the size of a two-story house on hydraulics!
The introduction of VR (Virtual Reality) has also meant that the need for physical cockpits is not necessary. Although more immersive, you might find that without the physicality of switching buttons (of which there are many in a commercial aircraft!) this option just isn’t close enough to the real thing.
You will also have the same differences as mentioned above when it comes to software, cockpit realism and functionality. The good thing about full motion flight simulators is that they are given a rating so that you can easily identify how close to the real thing that they are. The better the level, the better the ride … so to speak! Speaking plainly, for ultimate realism you want to have an experience in what the professionals train in. This comes with a cost though and time in a full motion simulator can range wildly depending on which level it is.
Full motion flight simulator levels
& why you want Level D
You may find that a lot of the static flight simulators open to the public are not certified. It is an extra step that they do not need to take as their customers don’t require it to be certified by the appropriate regulatory body. That is not to say that all static simulators in the UK don’t have a certification, if you are wanting to have maximum realism by way of the cockpit and it’s closeness to the real thing by way of the experience you may want to ask the operator if the simulator is certified and at which level.
Looking to the professional realm …
Flight Training Devices (FTD) don’t move. They are often rated with a number rather than a letter. They are rated from 1 to 7 with the higher numbers being more sophisticated.
Full Flight Simulators (FFS) are a high fidelity full size replica of a specific model and make of aircraft cockpit / deck. More importantly it is in compliance to industry recognised standards. Different to the idea of grades that you may be used to … the lower the letter the better the simulator so a Level D will surpass a Level A by way of reality.
In both of the above training machines the levels vary depending on the basic functions and tasks they are able to perform.
Let’s compare a Level 6 static FTD with a Level D Full Motion FFS, Level 7 FTD would be for only helicopters so won’t apply here.
A level 6 training device is very realistic with it’s model specific physical cockpit, aerodynamic programming and control. At this level you will find that they are specifically geared towards a particular aircraft. The aircraft/cockpit It won’t physically move but it’s graphics and the way that the controls react may well convince you that it is. Qualification documents are available and will be assigned to the operations who want to prove they are at a certain level.
A Full Motion Level D Flight Simulator enables you to do anything you would be able to do in a real aircraft by way of functions, errors, emergencies and movement. If you want to feel extreme turbulence, in one of these you can. This is what airlines will use to train and maintain their pilots’ skills. Visuals will be as close as possible to the real thing whether it be in the airport, flying through mountains or past famous sights. Day, night or dusk flying can be simulated along with any weather condition you can think of. They have tighter performance tolerances, which, if you were learning to be a commercial pilot are necessary. You need for these machines to react just as the actual aircraft would. Leven D simulators have 6 degrees of freedom due to it’s hydraulic legs and an outside world view of a minimum 150 degrees. They are also required to have distant focus display and realistic cockpit sounds, again … as it has to be just like the real thing. As the highest level of FFS you would be right to assume that you would get the highest quality experience every time.
This comes at a cost though as Level D experiences can set you back anywhere from £399 to £599 for an hour. A vast difference from the potential £80 you could be spending in a fixed base sim but also a vastly more sophisticated bit of kit. Should you have a wallet deep enough you can have one for yourself, assuming you have a warehouse to put it in … it’ll only cost you £15 million! Back of the sofa money right?
When it comes to spotting the differences between a fixed base and a full motion flight simulator, they are vast.
Fixed base or a static builds are technically only flight training devices and are classified as such in the professional realm … although the word “simulator” is associated with them when trying to sell to the general public. Professional pilots may well use these machines to keep their skills where they need to be but only in the highest level 6 technical build. If you are a home simmer and want to take the next step, this may be for you. Particularly with it’s lower price point.
Full motion simulators are what the professionals learn and train in for ultimate realism. Carbon copies in every way to the actual aircraft. To see, hear, operate and FEEL what it would be like to fly the ACTUAL aircraft, a Level D full flight system is the only way to go. It’ll cost you more, but you won’t regret it!
Booking a Full Motion Experience
At Full Motion Experience, we offer time in the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 Level D Full Flight Systems. We have access to these machines thanks to third parties – Quadrant Systems Ltd and L3 Harris. Only a handful of operations have this access and we are privileged to be one of them. You can learn more about us from our “About Us” page. We are excited to be able to offer these experiences to the general public as you will likely be sharing the facility with military and commercial pilots.
Our experiences can be booked by the hour or in multiple hours which will work out a lot cheaper in the long run. You don’t have to use them all at once and they can be used for a general experience or to learn about the aircraft, cockpit and aviation.
We can arrange different scenarios, emergencies and weather conditions to keep it challenging for you and if you are taking the educational route, courses are in the pipeline with additional materials at your disposal.
If you would like to book time in the Boeing 737 Level D simulator please do so here >
We look forward to seeing you in the cockpit and sharing our passion for aviation with you.