Amazing Technology Now Being Fielded Worldwide
By ANN Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien
There is a scene in
every Bond movie where the star must collect his latest apparatus
from Q, so clichéd a scene that Mike Myers sent it up
lovingly in Wayne's World. On his way to the lab, the spy passes a
number of other characters wringing out various outrageous and
Most of us will never take up the mantle of Sean Connery. The
nearest we can get to starring in that scene is to visit the
Environmental Tectonics Corporation's Somersworth, Pennsylvania
(suburban Philadelphia) headquarters.
At ETC, things are happening. Robot Jeeps on hydraulic stands
lurch and plunge, aircraft cockpits pitch and rotate in three axes,
and - inside a cavernous, hangar-like building, guarded by signs
warning everything from DANGER to NO CAMERAS BEYOND THIS POINT - a
centrifuge spins around, accelerating and braking as a gimbaled pod
on the end of its bifurcated arm rotates dizzily.
On November 12, 13 and 14 ETC "opened the kimono" to the press
and public for an unprecedented look at the company's unique and
innovative simulation products. First Flight Days referred not to
the inescapable Wright Brothers for once, but to the first public
demonstration "flight" of ETC's GFET-II centrifugal flight
simulator - a machine that is bolted to the ground with battleship
solidity, but that promises to be as revolutionary in its way as
the Wright Flyer.
This machine is nothing less than the future of flight
All the Powers Align
The company's brass was all there, but so were the guys I was
most interested in - the engineers that designed and built the
remarkable G-FET-II simulation device. ETC's importance to the
region, and to defense, was illustrated by the presence of several
government representatives, including two House Members (and this
was the day before the open-house for military and government
customers). Pennsylvania's own Representative Jim Greenwood gave
the opening address.
Stuck in Northeast Corridor ground traffic, I missed Jim
Greenwood, but I didn't miss the engineers, or seeing the machinery
run - and even trying some of it out.
Engineers are hilarious people, really
Standing next to some exotic machine they built, they'll admit,
if pressed, "Yeah, I did the mechanical design on this part" or
"Well, my software interfaces here, and -" and they always then say
something like, "But you're not really interested in that." Yeah -
right. Of course, once they find out you really are interested,
then you get deluged with details.
We learned all about the GFET-II, but also took the time to
check out what else is happening in Q's lab.
Meet Glenn King, and See Him Fly
simulator is new enough that the press can't fly it yet (I did get
to fly just the simulator bit, with the arm and capsule stationary,
but that misses the whole point of the GFET-II). For the
centrifugal runs, the man in the capsule was ETC's test pilot Glenn
King. Glenn is a meticulous pilot, all professionalism and
procedure, but he also isn't averse to having fun. And his
background was interesting, especially to all of us Walter Mittys
So, what kind of guy becomes a simulator test pilot? A fighter
jock? An ATP? Well… not exactly. Although most people who
meet Glenn put him in that cubbyhole instantly - and not just
because the senior ranks of ETC are thick with former military
pilots. (Hey, the USA has gone to great extremes to select and
train these aviators - a smart company takes advantage of
I've known Glenn for a couple of years, and always assumed he
was a military pilot - he has that fighter-pilot swagger, the one
that there's no formal class on but that everybody in the business
seems to pick up, anyway. Maybe it's hereditary; his father was a
military pilot. Anyway, I'm not the first one to be fooled: "I
always thought he was a military pilot, too," Ernie Lewis, the
company's director of simulations, a retired naval aviator with a
good combat record, told me. "He would have fit right in in any of
our ready rooms."
But Glenn is… a private pilot. Mind you, he's not just
any Private Pilot, with 3,800 hours logged including significant
time in almost any gravity-defying device, from parachutes (he is a
USPA D-license jumper with over 12,000 jumps) to seaplanes, to
ultralights. OK, so he didn't fly A-4 Scooters off the tiny deck of
the USS Intrepid, but guys who did - like Ernie - respect and
admire his piloting skills. That says something.
Glenn flew a tough demonstration profile several times during
the day, sustaining up to 6.5 G for up to 6 seconds in the
centrifugal simulator. And he was ready to go back and do it again,
when the PR folks ran out of interested media, television crews
(the demo made both Fox and NBC stations in the Philly market),
Congressmen and other VIPs.
Glenn also has a mischievous sense of humor. If you have the
good fortune to fly an ETC sim with him at the instructor console,
you'll probably be faced with some absolutely jaw-dropping
situation… but you'll not only learn what the sim can do,
you'll be a better pilot for it.
ETC Simulation Devices
ETC has been making flight simulation devices for years, and
they keep getting better and better. The GAT-II trainer, which
we've flown and told you about before, is probably the most
affordable GA full-motion simulator available today. ETC has also
been making centrifuges for a while… for quite a while. To
the point that most, maybe all, of the working centrifuges in the
world today came from the Pennsylvania company.
So one day they started thinking about putting a flight
simulator out at the end of a centrifuge.
To be continued...