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Interview: Patrick McFadden


Interview: Patrick McFadden



About You

When did you first get interested in aviation and why?


My grandfather flew a Spitfire during World War II. As a kid, his stories of flying fascinated me. I have always been a technical "hands on" person and as much as the aviation enthralled me, so too did all the technical/mechanical aspects of aviation. Eventually I decided to pursue my passion for aviation formally and so enrolled in a flight school as a full time student.


What do you do now for a living and do you work at flight simulation full time?


I currently work for an aviation technology company (Iris Dynamics) that has developed a new style of control loading simulator yoke. So yes I do work full time in the flight sim industry.






What types of hobbies do you enjoy?


Other than aviation, electronics, and computers I've always found peace in nature, traveling, the ocean, and photography.


Flight Simulation

Tell us about your involvement in flight simulation and the things you've done.


Much like everyone who is probably reading this I've been "playing" with home use flight simulation programs since as far back as I can remember. I've been lucky enough to combine this passion with my work in real world aviation and training.


My first exposure to commercial simulation systems was during my private and commercial training in an aging ELITE PCATD. When I went on to do my multi IFR I had the opportunity to use some of the last certified ATC810s that were still in use during the early 2000s.


Through the years I used a number of commercial FTD (Flight Training Devices) as both a student and eventually as an instructor.


I eventually went on to design and build a 6 channel cylindrically projected level 2 FTD from scratch. After finishing that project and starting Iris Dynamics we developed the control loading system which we're currently running a Kickstarter for, along with a few other interesting projects, such as an Oculus Rift enabled portable chair for ab-initio rotary wing training.


Have you had experience with X-Plane, FSX and Prepar3D and what are you thoughts on each?


The bulk of my experience has been with X-Plane, starting with V3 or 4 in the late 90s. I began using X-Plane more seriously when I started teaching, as it was a convenient way to demonstrate what's going on to the aircraft and surrounding air currents during certain maneuvers. Currently I believe X-Plane to be the most promising platform as it has a very vibrant development community and Laminar doesn't have its hands tied with only being able to offer "commercial" solutions.


FSX was/is a fantastic example of how a user community can drive development. The 3rd party developers have done an amazing job with keeping it updated and relevant but for better or worse it is a dying platform. I believe that the decision to try and split the "entertainment" and "serious" sides of this platform has done the simulation community a disservice.


As for Prepar3D I think it's great to see something positive come out of the FSX/ESP/MS Flight debacle. Having a project, which is in active development will do nothing but increase the quality of all simulation packages as a whole. I am also very excited to see stereoscopic 3D and Oculus integration reach mainstream usability.


Have you used the Redbird Simulators and what do you think of them?


Yes I have! I've operated an FMX and an XWIND. Redbird has obviously become the de facto name in FTDs over the past few years. They are relatively inexpensive and have much less stringent space, power, and cooling requirements, which make them an awesome fit for many of the few remaining "Mom and Pop" operators. That being said I do have a few gripes with these units. The FMXs I used had just a little too much motion latency/delay. So for example you would perform an input on the controls, and the horizon would change, but movement would be delayed by just enough time that realism was lost. I suspect this issue was the result of the marketing departments insistence on using a 15 amp plug which probably forced their engineers to use underpowered actuators. Also I do have a bit of a problem with using flat (planar) screens on a machine meant for VFR and IFR training. The perspective shift encountered when moving from one screen to the next (especially in an IFR circling procedure) leaves much to be desired. All that being said in the $50,000-$100,000 price range Redbird is an awesome budget option.


Tell us more about Alsim and D-Sim and any experience you have with those?


As mentioned I've also operated and done some recurrent training in several cylindrical projection systems, namely an Alsim MCC 200, Frasca C172, D-SIM-42, and a CAE built CRJ-200 sim.


Cylindrical projection in my opinion is miles ahead of flat panel monitors for generating an immersive "believable" environment. The Alsim, Frasca, and D-SIM are all very high quality devices designed to replicate small GA aircraft. They all have fully enclosed cockpits with a remote instructors station and are now pretty commonplace at most institutional flight schools. The D-SIM I flew was actually my first formal introduction to the G1000, and I must say that learning glass on a sim made the real world transition much faster AND much safer.


The change that these new generation FTDs are bringing to the market is starting to have an impact on how we as instructors can teach. Traditional sims like those I did my initial training on were only suitable for "procedures" training and some basic radio navigation practice. However units such as the Alsim, Frasca, Redbird, and D-SIM are now making certain VFR procedures practical to teach in a simulated environment. I strongly think systems like these will be key in meeting the world's future training needs as projected by ICAO and GAMA.


Real World Aviation

Tell us about your real aviation training and experience.


I began my training in 2001 on DA-20s and then C172s. I was privileged enough to do the bulk of my initial flying on the west coast of Canada and the US so mountains, water, customs, icing, heavy traffic (Vancouver/Seattle), and tiny logging strips were all part of my "growing up." I was also lucky enough to be at a school where unsupervised long-range trips were still permitted. So after finishing my PPL, one of the other students and I managed to rack up 100 hours or so of our build up time as we took turns flying around the perimeter of North America in a brand new C172.


I then did my multi engine rating in a BE-76, which leads to a story of stupidity: The same day I finished my multi flight test one of the owners of the school had an emergency and needed a ride to Calgary (over the Rocky Mountains). The only plane available was the BE-76, so I as a ~100 hour something pilot was then asked to fly a twin (that I had just been licensed on) over the rocks... at night... in the winter... on O2... and of course being young and stupid I thought this was a brilliant idea. Thankfully nothing happened, as the single engine service ceiling of a Duchess is lower than the enroute cumulo-granite.


I then finished my instrument rating, along with my commercial and eventually got a job as a "broom boy" for a small charter/air taxi operator.


What type of ratings do you have and what do you enjoy doing the most and why?


I have a multi IFR (Group 1), a Class 2 instructor rating, and a seaplane endorsement. Honestly I would have to say teaching has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my flying career so far. As with all things there are ups and downs, but with the right student, flying in the right part of the world, at the right time of the day there is simply nothing more freeing than being out over the training area with a full tank of fuel and saying:


"Hey there aren't any bookings after us so let's practice a diversion to XYZ airport, you call in the flight plan and I'll let the office know."


Once you started into real aviation as a career what types of things have you done?


My first job in aviation was with a small school which had an attached charter operation. I started out on the desk but started doing the odd charter and repositioning flights on C150s/C172s. Eventually I went on to do the odd survey flight and was eventually asked to do my instructor rating. I also found myself with a seasonal gig moving private aircraft back and forth from Canada and the southern states for owners who moved to the US to escape Canadian winter, but didn't want to spend the 2-3 days it took to move their machines back and forth.


I was eventually asked to take a position with an aerial survey company on the east coast flying a PA-31 camera platform. The bulk of the work that I did was in some remote areas of northern Quebec and Labrador. What was especially interesting about this job wasn't just the remote locations, but the trials and tribulations of having to keep very expensive survey gear working while in the middle of nowhere.


I was eventually poached by another school to come back as their chief instructor. I then spent the next ~4 years running a medium sized school while doing some contract work on the side, until I eventually started the first simulator project we previously talked about, which eventually lead me to Iris Dynamics which is where I now work.


What have been some of your most enjoyable and memorable experiences in real aviation?


By far the most interesting and enjoyable things I recall from working commercially is the excitement and adventure of going somewhere I had never been. Being asked to have a machine in such and such a location five days from now and having the freedom to get there anyway you wish. Being able to see places, people, and geography that so few people ever get to see up close is a truly wonderful experience.



We've heard you have been involved in building a real world flight simulator, tell us about that experience.


In 2010 the school I was managing was in need of a new sim. Two Redbirds had just been set up on the field and the aging ELITE machine we had was well past its prime.


There didn't seem any point in having a third Redbird on the field, but a $500,000 ALSim was outside of our budget, so after going through all of the certification standards we decided to build and certify our own from scratch. The internals were a mix of off the shelf and in house components. We fully replicated the electrical systems using real solenoids, switches, batteries, etc. And used a combination of rotary encoders and opto isolators to interface various systems back with the simulation software.


For visuals we ran into an interesting situation. Under the Canadian regulations for a Level 2 "enhanced" FTD we were required to provide a vertical field of view of at least 40 degrees. Once we started doing some calculations something very interesting popped up. None of the systems that we had previously seen operating in Canada could actually meet this 40 deg requirement. Most were "maybe" operating in the 20 deg range which was quite confusing considering they all somehow got a magic stamp of government approval.


It turns out that because they had met FAA standards (which didn't have the 40 deg requirement) they were allowed into Canada rightly or wrongly. Considering we were building this device in Canada we were required to meet this standard. To do this we calculated we would have to essentially double the vertical size of the projection area. So we went with a 6-projector system, in a 3x2 setup. Because we were building this on the cheap and had some very specific space restrictions we ended up with what we believe to be the world's first six channel cylindrical projection system which was being run from a single CPU/GPU.


We ended up selecting X-Plane as the base simulation software for a few reasons. Namely at the time it was the only software package with active community AND commercial support (FSX was dead and Lockheed hadn't fully taken over the ESP side of things yet.) Additionally there were issues in ESP with respect to flight dynamics. In Canada for certification you demonstrate a proper positively stable phugoid, which X-Plane can do right out of the box.


One of the biggest technical hurdles that we encountered on this first sim was how to deal with Control Loading/FFB. Commercial CL/FFB systems were far too expensive, and the singular consumer solution on the market at the time was not built for continual student abuse 8 hours a day 7 days a week.










What is the latest project you're working in the flight simulator area?


While we were working through the force feedback/control loading problem on our first simulator we decided that any CL solution that was going to be practical would have to be built in house. This lead to a solid year of brainstorming followed by another 11 months of prototyping. What we eventually came up with was a device in the same class as commercial systems but which could be made for WELL under $1000. Once we stumbled onto this solution we figured not only could it be used in FTDs, but we could make it at a cost that could bring it into most people's houses.


What makes it different from the ones that are already out there?


Compared to non CL solutions it has roughly double the travel distance ~7.5" while most yokes only move ~3" (a real Cessna 172 has about 12" of pitch travel).


Additionally we are not using potentiometers to track shaft position, rather we are using a combination of optical and Hall effect sensors, this gives us much greater accuracy and resolution to track shaft position. This also means we aren't relying on complex mechanical linkages that may fail, meaning this design should last for a VERY long time.


Obviously being an FFB yoke it also has force feedback (or control loading). This allows for the expected simulation of wind gusts, bumps, etc. But it also permits for the natural resting position of the yoke to move throughout various stages of flight and trim positions. We also have the ability to have variable resistance as you move the yoke more/less at higher/lower airspeeds.


As for differences with existing CL solutions... You won't need to take out a new mortgage on your house to own one of these.










What are you doing to fund it and how can people help you make this product a reality?


We have a functioning prototype, and a workable design path to take this device to production, however as with all projects this needs money. Much of the heavy lifting on the design has already been done, so at this point our major financial hurdles are in tooling and in bulk ordering of base components.


If this is a project that you would like to see move forward, checkout our Kickstarter campaign and order a yoke! For those not familiar with Kickstarter, if we don't make our funding target (December 21st) no one will be charged and the project will be shelved. If however we can find 100 more people, the project will move forward and home user control loading will be a reality.


How many people work with you and what are their rolls?


The core team is comprised of three primary people, along with several advisors. Myself (Patrick) have done most of the original electrical design and machining work for the project.


Chad is a programmer and electrical systems designer by trade so he has been working on most of the front end along with component sourcing and logistics planning.


Kyle is also a programmer, he has developed most of the backend algorithms that control linear and roll forces.


Who will be the target audience for your product?


For the Kickstarter we are envisioning sim enthusiasts, students, and private pilots as the initial market. Eventually we would like to see this technology used by the major FTD manufacturers.



Where do you feel flight simulation is going in the future?


Once we start talking about the new generation of head mounted displays, and augmented reality systems that are currently the pipline some very interesting changes are going to be seen.


What type of products would you like to do going forward?


Our major push at the moment is the control loading yoke. However we contracted recently to build a control-loading helicopter cyclic using our new actuator design. We would like to see this actuator used in floor-mounted yokes, and eventually in mainstream production FTDs.


Patrick McFadden
Iris Dynamics Ltd.
pmcfadden@IrisDynamics.com Force Feedback Yoke Kickstarter Campaign

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