How to Build a Simulator – I – The Lifecycle of a Simulator

This post is Part-1 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.

The Sim Lifecycle

The lifecycle of a sim is a long process that can last for a while. This post will be an overview of how to build a simulator from the proposed contract to construction to on-site maintenance and retirement.

Decomposition and Definition

Domain Architecture

The first task in building a simulator is knowing exactly who you are building for. This step is called Domain Architecture and is all about knowing your customer. The goal is to know who your clientele is and have an idea of what they are going to expect.

Concept Exploration

Once the domain architecture is understood it is time to move on to the exploration of concepts, which can be applied to solutions for creating or upgrading the trainer. This is all about working out ideas to solve problems that hinder the building development.


After all concepts for improving and building the trainer have been worked out, the System Engineering Management Plan (SEMP) must be written. The SEMP is a document that contains vital information for the development of the trainer. The SEMP includes details such as the description of the program, the value of the contract, the time frame of completion, and often the concept of operations. Basically, this document is the road map for building the sim.


The concept of operations is an important part of the process. Referred to as ConOps, the Concept of Operations lists what the device needs to be able to do and what it will be used for, as well as its usability potential and whether it will be a small device such as a DTT or a full simulator. This document goes hand-in-hand with system validation which we will soon touch base on.

System Requirements

Now that the ConOps has been written and distributed, the system requirements need to be addressed. The system requirements discuss what the sim needs to be able to do from the perspective of the customers. This is different from the ConOps because ConOps focuses on the full potential of the trainer, whereas the system requirements are specifications and requirements directly requested by the customer. ConOps more so focuses on the needs of the Warfighter who will be using the sim to train. The system requirement will then later be tested in system verification.


Next is the high-level design of the subsystem, which determines the capabilities of each component and how they will be addressed and integrated. This part creates the specifications for how the trainer will be built and tested. Once the sim is built, the plan to test is executed in subsystem verification.

Once the subsystem has been designed, the system must be designed and detailed on the component level. This section focuses on how each individual part, down to the smallest component, will be used and integrated. Then after construction, each component will be tested.

So far, a contract has been received requesting detailed specifications of what the customer expects out of the simulator, how it should perform, its purpose, and its utility. You should know what you are building, for who, how they want it built, and how your team plans to construct it.

Fabrication and Coding

Finally, it is time to build! The project timeline represented in the SEMP will simply involve a majority of hardware fabrication and software coding. This means the components will be manually integrated together to form the physical trainer and the program’s software will be coded to train specific tasks, procedures, and information.


Now that the sim is constructed and coded it is time for copious amounts of testing to ensure it checks off all requirements and verifications.

First comes component testing. This involves checking every single component down to the smallest scale to guarantee every part is functioning properly.

Next is Subsystem Verification, In which the System Integration Lab (SIL) is researched and implemented in the most efficient manner. In the step, we also question if anything can be improved in the areas of risk reduction, scheduling, and cost.

After Subsystem Verification is complete, the system must be verified in, you guessed it, System Verification. This includes implementing the Contract Acceptance test to see if the sim meets AF SIMCERT or FAA requirements. This step depends on the requirements set forth in the contract under system requirements. All of this is to make sure your team has built the sim according to the initial customer requirements.

Then comes System Validation. This section ties in with the ConOps. Its purpose is to test for FAA Qualifications or AF SIMVAL. Again this depends on the ConOps and the requirements set forth much like the System Verification. The main difference is in its focus on the warfighter’s needs more so than the customer’s.

Maintenance, Innovations, and Retirement

Once all tests have been completed and all requirements and verifications have been met it is time for installation and maintenance. This step is decently self-explanatory. The sim is delivered or handed off to the customer. Then it is taken care of, cleaned, and preserved or fixed if any problems arise or something is broken.

Since technology is forever advancing, changes, upgrades, and innovations are a common undertaking. For example, when dealing with military trainers, weapons systems are constantly improving to ensure our military has the best technology accessible. This means the simulators that train the Warfighters who are going to use or maintain these new devices, vehicles, or machines must be kept up to date.

Finally, once a vehicle or device is retired from use because it is becoming outdated, the associated simulator must also be retired. A sim that teaches trainees something that is outdated is practically useless especially when dealing with precise, highly dangerous machinery.

Up Next!

We here at AVT Simulation hope this Sim-Lifecycle run-through provides useful information to you, the reader. We also hope it inspires you to learn more about simulators. If you want to learn more in an in-depth face-to-face course with an instructor devoted to your education on sims, check the “Learn More!” section below!

Next week on Wednesday the 17th, another “How To” tutorial will be released on The Benefits of Simulation.

Learn More!

Want to learn about simulators? Check our Simulation Training Course here:

Learn more about how AVT Simulation helps change the simulation training industry with our products and services.

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.