There’s an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
In flight test, needs are everywhere. Parts, scheduling, the need for maintainers; need for computers, the need for spectrum to transmit data, etc.
The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is also voicing the need for innovation to improve the way things are done, not only now but for the future.
At the 772nd Test Squadron a need was identified, and through some ingenuity and resourcefulness, the Portable Manned Interactive Cockpit was conceived. The PMIC was designed and is being built by a team at the 772nd TS’s Integrated Facility for Avionics Systems Test.
“We’re all software developers and we wanted a cockpit that we could use for development that wasn’t being used by the [combined test force],” said Orion Westfall, 772nd TS. “We wanted an F-35 cockpit, something small we can do development on.”
Westfall said getting time with the actual state-of-the-art simulators at the IFAST to do software development can be difficult given how often they’re used.
“We have big full dome simulators, but those rooms are used all the time and we cannot get in there and do any work while a mission is going. We’ll schedule the rooms to do work, and if the CTF decides they want to fly a mission that day, then we have to reschedule. It’s kind of important for them to fly, and we we’re getting rescheduled a lot.”
The team pieced together a cockpit with a stick and throttle, and then monitors and computers gathered from around the IFAST. The makeshift cockpit fit their desired needs and turned out to be quite the success for the developers’ purposes. However, it wasn’t very mobile.
“It’s wide and doesn’t fit through all the doors. So, we decided on this second iteration we would make sure it can go on elevators and go through small doorways,”
With the success of the first cockpit, the 412th TW granted the 772nd TS funds to build the new, more mobile one. The wing has set aside money for innovation projects.
The new PMIC has a built-in seat that vibrates to simulate a real cockpit, and built-in stick and throttle. The stick can be swapped out depending on the type of plane. The sim computers are installed in travel boxes for easier transport.
“One thing about the new PMIC is it can be converted into even a tank or a car if that need ever arose,” said Gary Johnson, 772nd TS. “It has the [gaming] seat, which has the capability of a having a center console that can support a steering wheel along with a center stick depending on the aircraft.”
The PMIC team plan to use it with other simulators where it can join in on missions and also be used for pilot training. Another benefit is the flexibility of the PMIC to be configured to almost any aircraft type on Edwards. Regular simulators are only dedicated to one aircraft. The squadron also plans to take it out into the community for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics events.
The PMIC is expected to be completed and ready to use some time next month.