3D Airport Models for Flight Simulators

I’ve been a closet flight simulator nerd from way back, so I was like a kid in a candy shop when went got to visit the guys at SynFlyt during the week. SynFlty are developing some cool new flight simulators that can be installed indoors or outdoors and easily configured for various light aircraft and jets. Their simulators can be configured for multiple aircraft and are completely immersive with 3 axis of motion. Makes desktop set up at home loo k a bit crap really!

Now there may not be an obvious link between flight simulators and remote sensing. However flight simulators rely heavily on accurate spatial data to create 3D worlds for virtual pilots to fly around in. To create this virtual world you need two things, an accurate image layer and a terrain layer or mesh to drape it over. Currently both the image and terrain layers tend to be sourced from satellite data. While it’s not overly high resolution its good enough, and it has the advantage of covering most of the globe. This is handy as aeroplanes tend to go places.

SynFlyt Flight Simulator

Satellite layers look good in flight simulators until you hit about 1500 – 500 ft in altitude then they start to look pixelated. So if you want to model something in higher resolution like and airport, satellite just doesn’t cut the mustard. To model something like an airfield you need a higher resolution imagery and terrain source. This was the reason for my visit to SynFlyt. To discuss the possibility of using high resolution aerial photography to produce photorealistic, spatially accurate 3D models of Australian airports that can be used in flight simulators. I suggested flying Camden airport in Western Sydney as an initial test. Assuming this works we would then look at flying a few more, like Wollongong and Bathurst.

YSCN – Camden Airport

Imagery will be captured using a 5 camera oblique system that I helped to develop over at Aerial Acquisitions, and is carried by a Cessna 172N. It captures a single vertical image and 4 oblique images from the 4 cardinal headings (NSEW). All 4 of the oblique cameras are angled at an angle of around 50 degrees. This allows detail to be captured on the facades buildings and above ground structures, producing a much better 3D model than nadir (vertical) imagery alone. These 3D airport models could then be blended in with current satellite imagery and terrain creating a seamless and spatially accurate virtual world.

I hope to have some test data ‘in the can’ as they say within the next two weeks if the weather plays ball. It should be an interesting project, and I have not had much to do with importing spatial data into flight simulators. So I am looking forward to learning how to do this. I will post all my results here, as well as some how to articles in case there are any other closet flight sim nerds out there.

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