Flight Simulation: Motion verse Stationary


There are many types of simulators used in many industries to help train people to use equipment which can be very expensive to train them on the real thing. One of the big debates is how effective flight simulators are. One question from that debate is the need for motion simulation.
Motion simulation is where simulators have movement that mimics some of the motion when using a simulator. For example, when flying an aircraft the body can feel the difference in gravitation as the aircraft fly around, the simulator attempts to mimic these feelings with clever uses of acceleration and the body’s limitations. The amount of movement that an aircraft has is defined by degrees of freedom. Each degree of freedom gives the simulator more motion. They deal with one plane of motion. The maximum number of degrees of freedom need to simulate motion is 6.

Demonstration of 6 Degrees of Motion (Embedded from CKAS)


The biggest advantage is that it can add to the realism of the flight with some of the more complex motion platforms able to simulate very accurately the actually conditions. By adding this motion it can be good enough to further trick the participant that they are flying.
Cost Savings
In the long run, these complex motion platform are cheaper to run than the aircraft they simulate. The more complex simulators can be more expensive than the aircraft themselves still offer cost savings because of running costs being cheaper, i.e. no fuel or ground crew and less downtime for the pilots.
These simulators can be much safer than trying to fly the aircraft itself. The simulator can simulate situations which would otherwise be costly or dangerous to try in the aircraft. Also there is a reset button should the pilot get it wrong1.


In order to get the motion to simulate accurately what motion the aircraft does takes a lot of time and experience with the both. For the simulator to be able to ‘feel’ like the aircraft it has to move like the real thing. Most simulators end up being a rough representation of the aircraft.
Simulator Sick
This is actually motion sickness, but has the nick name because motion is simulated. It comes from the confusion in the brain where the visual references are telling the brain one thing and the motion could be telling another. If the motion does not reflect what is happening on the screen then a state of vertigo is possible1 .

Motion verses Stationary

The impact on motion on the sense of realism is only a small part to the whole package. While the motion depends of the pilot “feeling” the movement, stationary relies of trick the pilot using visual cues and focus4. In order for the simulator to be effective, it needs to have enough realism for the task at hand.

Procedure Training
To simulate environment that are only used to teach procedures, such as pre-start checks or equipment use, there is no need for motion. The added motion does not give any extra realism. Some of these checklists can be done with a picture of the cockpit. However, some in flight procedures may benefit from simulating turbulence in order to give the pilot that bit of extra realism. For example, some emergency procedures will not be a comfortable ride therefore, simulating turbulence may show the pilot some of the difficulties of trying to operate switches. In this case some motion may be useful
Instrument Training
A lot of instrument flying is following procedures and thinking ahead. This then means that the addition of motion may only be of real benefit when trying to simulate emergencies.
Skill Training
Training pilot on simulators actual skills, such as basic flying skills, may have a strong need to simulate motion. This is because the pilot will be associating what they “feel” with the skill and less try to apply that in the real thing. The first steps of training will add to their instincts so their first bit of training will need to show them what they should expect to happen. Without motion they may not get the same kinaesthetic learning as they would from the real thing.
Targeted Training
With simulators one of the major benefits is the ability to target scenarios for training for research. Depending on the target will depict the need for motion.

Therefore, the need for motion can be of great benefit, but there are appropriate times when it is needed. To decide with motion is the way to go will depend on what type of training it will be used for.

Degrees of Freedom (Amount of motion)

There is still strong debate and inconclusive research in whether there is a need for the full six degrees of freedom. This is where the aircraft can move about on all three planes an in move in more than one plane at a time. Some research has shown that limited motion is adequate for training purposes for some of the normal procedures3. However, the governing bodies have decided that aircraft to be used as zero flight time simulators, they need all six degrees of freedom. Zero flight time simulator as simulators that can register as real flight type and can be used to certify pilots of aircraft before actually allowing them to fly the real thing5. This means that these simulators are very costly. Therefore, the question remain, are all these degrees of motion necessary in order to train pilots.
The other problem is that some uses of simulators may cause pilots to learn unsafe habits or incorrect responses. This may be amplified with the use of motion.
Though the research is limited there is however, some evidence that not all six degrees of motion are needed in order for the simulator to be useful2,3,6,7. This means that a cheaper simulator with more limitation may suit the needs of the training organisation than a more expensive one. However, the more expensive one does portray a better image in terms of marketing2.


The realism of a simulator does not depend solely on whether it has motion. The effectiveness will depend on the whole package. Therefore, the need of motion is only appropriate for some situations during training. Depending of the requirement of the training organisation will depend on what the simulator will be used for. There is still much debate whether the full 6 degrees of freedom are needed.

1. Christiansen, N. (October 2010). Human Factor in Flight Simulation. Retrieved from http://aviationknowledge.wikidot.com/aviation:human-factors-of-flight-simulation
2. Boldovici J. A. (September 1992). Simulator Motion. Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA257683&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf
3. Lee, A. T. & Bussolari, S. R. (n.d.). FLIGHT SIMULATOR PLATFORM MOTION AND AIR TRANSPORT PILOT TRAINING. Retrieved from http://www.faa.gov/library/online_libraries/aerospace_medicine/sd/media/lee_a.pdf
4. Bürki-Cohen J. (1998). Simulator Platform Motion—The Need Revisited. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1998, pp. 293-317.
5. Wiki (September 2011). Full flight simulator. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_flight_simulator
6. Jacobs R. S. (June 1976). Simulator Cockpit Motion and the Transfer of Flight Training. Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA038194&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf
7. Bürki-Cohen, J. (April 2003). SIMULATOR FIDELITY REQUIREMENTS FOR AIRLINE PILOT TRAINING AND EVALUATION CONTINUED: AN UPDATE ON MOTION REQUIREMENTS RESEARCH. Proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Aviation Psychology, April 2003
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Want to know more?

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Motion Experiment
Influence of Motion
The Influence of Motion System Characteristics on Pilot Control Behaviour

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