Students and parents take flight at Cal Poly Open House

bswanston@thetribunenews.comApril 12, 2014 

Current and prospective Mustangs and their parents filled Cal Poly’s Flight Simulation Laboratory on Saturday, all eager for a chance to try out virtual flight during the final day of the campus’s busy three-day Open House.

The student-run flight simulator lab was one of hundreds of events held during Open House for new students and parents to explore the campus.

Shaped like a small airplane, the student-built flight simulator stood several feet off the floor and its would-be pilots had to climb inside by way of a step stool. Visitors entered in pairs, settling into two large, cushioned seats before a display of screens, levers and buttons.

Three large monitors created a view of the machine’s simulated “surroundings.” A pilot simulating a flight over San Luis Obispo would see an accurate image of the city splayed across the screens — tilting the joystick downward might provide a view of the city’s streets or Cal Poly’s campus, whereas tilting it toward the horizon might show Bishop Peak or the distant Morro Rock.

Lab technician Zack Meyer said the simulation software could conjure up images for just about any location.

“We can go anywhere in the world,” Meyer said.

Lab students sharpen their skills by writing code for the software, he said. In doing so, they control everything from the number of cars appearing on simulated streets to the angles at which the bird graphics flap their wings.

Simulator occupants buckle up seatbelts after settling into their seats, because the machine also emulates the feel of flight — jerking right, left, up and down to correspond with the pilot’s choice of direction.

The flight simulator began as a 2007 senior project, which the club then adopted as its own. Now, lab students accumulate career-applicable experience flying, tweaking and coding for the simulator.

Meyer snagged an internship position doing flight simulation technology and research for NASA thanks to his experience in the simulation lab, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with flight simulation,” he said.

The lab has now set its sights on unmanned aerial vehicles flown remotely, Meyer said. The Flight Simulation Laboratory hopes to integrate unmanned aerial system programs with their simulator, testing the programs’ strength before applying them to actual aircrafts, he said.

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