Development of a motion platform for an educational flight simulator

Albert S.J. Van Heerden, Raine Lidbetter, Leon Liebenberg, Edward H. Mathews, Josua P. Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flight simulators are regularly used in the undergraduate and postgraduate training of mechanical and aeronautical engineers. Due to advances in computing technology, several flight simulation-related tasks can now be accomplished in real-time using low-cost PC platforms and inexpensive commercial software. The difficulty in realising an educational flight simulator system with motion platform therefore lies with the design and construction of an effective motion platform. Costs become exorbitant when simulation platforms of more than two degrees of freedom (i.e. pitch and roll) are attempted. This paper describes the development of a drive system for a motion platform with two degrees of freedom (pitch and roll) for use in undergraduate engineering training. Use was made of offthe-shelf PC equipment and flight simulation software and hardware, together with commercial actuators and drive systems. The motion platform was manufactured from square tubing and consisted of three frames: the stationary main frame and, rotating inside this, the roll frame and pitch frame. These rotated relative to each other and were actuated by two similar-sized DC motors and gearbox/chain transmissions. The system effectively simulated the pitch and roll motions of commercial airliners, using a low-cost, easily maintainable motion platform. The educational value of the simulator was twofold: first, it was to be displayed in the science exploratorium (SciEnza) of the University of Pretoria; and second, it provided a platform on which mechanical (as well as electrical, electronic and computer) engineering students could conduct practical work in courses such as dynamics and control, and on which final-year and postgraduate students could conduct research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-322
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Educational flight simulator
  • Motion platform
  • Two degrees of freedom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Mechanical Engineering

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