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Aerospace Industry Shifting From High Fidelity Simulators to Smaller, Multi-Purpose Simulators


High fidelity and exact replication has been the holy grail of simulation for years. Training and simulation groups maintained that exact replication and high fidelity would produce the highest transfer of training and best training results. Is this premise true? Does the simulator that has the highest overall fidelity automatically increase human performance and human effectiveness the most? And, is the extra cost of high fidelity justifiable? The answer to these questions is no, not necessarily. In fact, there is a growing trend away from the highest fidelity simulators to smaller, multipurpose simulators. Making the overall simulation more real-to-life doesn’t necessarily make you understand or learn more.

A recent document published by the Air Force, New World Vistas, Air and Space Power for the 21 st Century, warns that high fidelity is very expensive and may not be necessary. A study conducted by the National Training Systems Association, entitled Training 2000, predicts a shift from large-scale simulators to smaller, multi-purpose flight simulators.

The aerospace industry has found that fidelity is not that important as long as the sequence of the response is the same between the simulation and the actual system. Simulation of the entire system may not be needed if part task simulators can be effectively combined to teach the entire skill. In fact, some skills are difficult to teach on full-scope simulators, as the task elements get lost if they are part of a larger task requirement. To be an effective training tool, you have to understand the basic processes that are critical to improving performance. Understanding what needs to be trained, at the behavior level, and what methods exist to provide the training are fundamental to a successful training program.

Due to their high costs, a lot of petrochemical plants are shying away from purchasing process specific high fidelity simulators and instead are relying upon generic simulators to teach basic skills and concepts. Simulators are expensive to purchase and maintain. It is not unusual to have a high fidelity simulator for a single process unit cost more than one million dollars initially, plus 10% annually for maintenance and updating.

Although simulators are wonderful training tools, the issue is not would they help, but do they provide the greatest training return for the dollar. The sophistication of simulators requires an infrastructure to ensure that they are properly utilized. While training “gaps” are easy to recognize, how should they best be filled? A simulator is one solution, but is it the most cost-effective solution? Without a training system in place to delineate the training “gaps”, identify the missing knowledge or behavioral elements, and measure the success of less costly training initiatives, it is unlikely the correct simulator can be purchased or fully utilized. Prior to spending millions of dollars on high fidelity simulation, a training system should be established that can both define and utilize such a training device.

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