How to Build a Simulator – Part V – Fidelity to Reality

This post is Part-5 of the “How To Build a Simulator” series. Previously published was the “How To” intro, which includes a summary of the series and a detailed schedule.


Human perception is a complicated and fragile concept; a concept that is controlled and manipulated greatly in the simulator industry. The purpose of a simulator is to alter our senses, forcing us to believe we are somewhere or doing something we are not.

This manipulation is key in making simulators look, sound, and feel real. In today’s edition of the “How to Build a Simulator” series, we will discuss the importance of fidelity to the operational vehicle (OV) and the manipulation of three of our senses, sight, sound, and touch.

Simulator Fidelity

Needless to say, how realistic a sim is and how accurate it is to its real counterpart determines the quality of the trainer. If anything in the simulator is different than in the OV, the trainee will transfer that improper behavior over when switching from the trainer to the vehicle.

Everything in a sim needs to be as close as possible to the real thing or else the training is pointless and can negatively impact the user’s ability to operate.


Aural Fidelity: Communications panel

We will begin with aural. This is everything the trainee hears inside the simulator, including aural cueing, confirmation sounds, and language from the COMMS and radio. Sound is important in a sim for multiple reasons. The first being, you must know what to expect. If an OV makes a certain sound upon ignition or during a maneuver, it is better if the trainee knows this beforehand to avoid any mistakes or false information. Also, the trainee must be able to communicate effectively with their instructor to ensure proper communication with fellow Warfighters, wingmen, or air traffic control.


Touch, as odd as it may seem, is a critical factor in simulation. Without it, users would not be able to look independently from where their hands need to be or understand what it feels like to do a certain maneuver. Having every input device exactly as it is in the OV helps the user tremendously.

For example, a big cost factor is a choice between mechanical or touchscreen panels. This is because mechanical panels cost more to build. They are worth it, however, because the trainee will feel the click and release of a plastic button or the flick of a metal lever.

These subtle differences can greatly affect a user’s training by tapping into their muscle memory. When attempting difficult tasks and maneuvers, your body’s natural instincts could mean the difference between success or failure/life or death.

Hand touching a switch on a control panel


The first form of touch is tactile, the passive touching of the skin. This includes anything that we can feel with the light sensors in our skin. Tactile touch senses composition, texture, and materials.

While it may not seem too important in simulation, it is. Knowing what the different controls feel like could determine if you are about to press, flip, or move something you should not. The tactile sense is not manipulated like the others in simulation, however.


The second form of touch is haptic, the active touching and pressures from bodily displacement. Haptic touch refers to the weight one feels from movement or kinetic energy. This form of touch is greatly manipulated by simulators. Haptic touch can include smaller or larger amounts of pressure.

Anywhere from lifting your arm to press a button, feeling the pressure against your fingertip and gravity on your shoulder, to the G-forces sensed when making a barrel roll or jerk from a vehicle that is beginning to move. A large part of haptic touch is from how we move our bodies. However, another portion is devised by motion systems.

These systems use hydraulics and vibrations to simulate the intense movements of an aircraft in flight to get the trainee used to the great strain on their bodies. Haptic feedback is also useful in event confirmation, allowing the trainee to feel if they have successfully completed a maneuver.

Haptic Feedback in a vibration seat
Haptic feedback in a vibration seat


Visuals are everything the trainee sees within the simulator. This includes what contributes and what distracts from the training experience. Visuals are the most important and most difficult sense to get right within a simulator. Fun fact: eyes are the second most complex part of the body and they require fifty percent of the brain to see. This complexity translates over when building a simulator. Firstly, for full flight simulators (FFS), everything in the cockpit must appear exactly as it is in the OV. Secondly, sims require a database to fly in with realistic enough graphics. Finally, this database must be displayed through a perfectly placed projector onto a dome to simulate the pilot’s vision. Also, the dome must be correctly curved and seamless to avoid distortions or simulator sickness. The displayed image is so exact that FFSs require only one additional feature compared to the OV which is the eye-point to show exactly where the user needs to look for the display to be in full view and proportioned.

High fidelity cockpit

Thank you for reading. We here at AVT Simulation and the AVT Training Center hope you have learned a bit from us and continue to do so next Wednesday in our next installment of the “How to Build a Simulator” series.

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Initially, Applied Visual Technology Inc., AVT has been developing modeling and simulation expertise through engineering services since 1998. This is due to our founder who has accumulated over 30 years of military MS&T expertise in aviation applications. Nonetheless, everyone at AVT specializes in making old training systems new again and making new ones for less. Consequently, for 20 years AVT has served our Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine customers by providing the highest quality of service and solutions. Following its inception, AVT’s highly specialized staff of engineers has included some of the top leaders in the simulation industry. With over 20 years of simulation experience, our dedicated team provides specialized solutions for customers with complex problems.