Brussels Flight Simulators started exactly 4 years ago in the bubbling imagination of Pierre Van Walleghem

Exactly four years ago, on December 14, 2014 (he remembers the date), Pierre Van Walleghem began to design and build a first prototype of a professional Boeing 737NG flight simulator, intended to open up to both pilots and the general public.

This pre-project was then dubbed “Simaeroclub”, which will become a startup under the name “Brussels Flight Simulators” in April 2016.

We interview him for the occasion.
He tells us about the beginnings of BFSIM and the different phases that have resulted in today’s installations.

Pierre Van Walleghem, founder of the company

Pierre Van Walleghem, what gave you the idea to start such a project?

Initially, my way in aviation – started late – showed me that the flight simulation presented significant limits. Either we were had big and extremely expensive machines or very basic simulators, whose prices were still high compared to what they offered.

Another observation, a corollary of the first: flight simulators of this type were almost reserved for pilots and aviation professionals.

By adding to these basic observations, a good knowledge of computers, electronics and with some cross-functional skills typical of most entrepreneurs, the idea has sprung up. I decided to design simulators relatively “low cost” but fully operational and functional.

Pilots may be interested in minimizing the cost of certain phases of preparation and learning, and the general public could also benefit from a better pricing, closer to “entertainment” budgets.

Assembled MIP of 737NG

But you are not the first to build a flight simulator, right?

Indeed, there is a small community of “simmers”, people passionate about aviation and simulation, which I have long been part of myself since I was already having fun with MS Flight Simulator 4.0 in the early 1990s … More later I had built a relatively simplified cockpit of Boeing 747, an excellent first test bench.

That said, simmers are keen to develop their simulators to the extent of their personal aspirations, their budget, their available space, etc. It is quite different, the objectives are not the same and often the compromises are unavoidable.

I have often found very valuable help with other simmers, especially via forums, because there is a lot of help in this community of enthusiasts, and God knows the challenges are many!

Why did you choose the Boeing 737 NG ?

Aaah good question! There is a choice of heart and a strategic choice at a time.

First of all, because like many pilots I prefer planes that are controlled with a “yoke” rather than a joystick, so Boeing before Airbus.

Boeing 737 MAX

Then, the model 737, because it is a fairly mythical aircraft that has evolved over time while still keeping his good old soul from the sixties.

And then of course the “NG” because it was the most recent (“NG” = “Next Generation”). It is also a model very, very widespread, thanks to a well known Irish company that uses only this model, in its “800” version.

Today the “MAX” has come out to succeed the NG, but it will take many years to MAX to push the NG in the ropes of outdated aircraft. The NG is therefore a very strategic choice, meeting both the needs of pilots and the enthusiasm of many aviation enthusiasts; it’s a well-anchored plane that still has a very bright future ahead.

The NG is really great to fly, at the junction of state-of-the-art digital technology and classic “old fashioned” analog aviation.

Tell us a little bit about the prototype of your B737 NG simulator?

At the end of 2014, I started the technical study based on the elements we just mentioned. I virtually crossed the world to find manufacturers, designers, developers and specialists in the field of flight simulation.

cockpitbuilders.com, an excellent forum among many others

Quickly, I understood the importance of thinking the project around a software rather than hardware axis. And of all the systems I’ve been able to test, Prosim Aviation Reasearch has convinced me the most. At the time, their flight model, avionics, precision and deep system management were already far above the rest.

Only one small problem: the choice of Prosim required to work with the external visual of PREPAR3D, an application developed by Lockheed Martin in the continuity of Microsoft Flight Simulator of which they had bought the license and continued the development. This gas plant has undeniable qualities but pauses some problems in terms of performance and stability. But in spite of everything, the balance tilted very largely in this direction.

From there, once the software core determined, it remained to design and assemble a set of compatible commands, as close to reality as possible. I found this from builders like Opencockpits, Fly Engravity, CPFlight, Cockpitsonic, Flight Illusion, FSC Italy, FlyByCockpits, etc. I did everything from A to Z, taking care to study each system on the real plane at the same time as I put it in the simulator.

Calibration of our C172 with the same system

I then opted for a visual system with 3 projectors on a semi-cylindrical screen to favor the most optimal immersion possible. Because an immersive visual of high quality was an essential element in the project as well. In a matter of fact, big professional simulators dedicated to pilots have an extremely poor visual, which is not a problem when it comes to pure training. But to welcome fans and the general public, on the other hand, it’s quite essential! So I paid a lot of attention to visual performances and quality.

To reach my goals, I of course appealed to relatives with specific skills in certain areas, people without whom I would not have arrived and to whom I am extremely grateful.

I can not name them all, but there is one of my brothers who is an electronics engineer. With him, we created dedicated circuits and devices from all over the cockpit.

Pilot friends also helped me by bringing their expertise and their experience of the “real plane”, especially a friend who was at the time captain at JetairFly, whom I call friendly “Amiralex” and who will recognize himself. My friend Kim also inspired the project, and helped start it up. I can not thank her enough.

Because everything had to be functional, realistic, operational; no question of putting any fake button, and no question of creating a simulator type “video game”! Challenging …

Welcome in Zaventem !

Why did you move and install Brussels Flight Simulators in Zaventem?

Once the prototype was assembled and finished, we tested it for a few months in a converted garage for the occasion. I then began to focus more on the business plan and a viable model for this ambitious project, at the same time seeking a suitable location for the business and its future developments.

Zaventem inspired me a priori as a municipality historically related to aviation in Belgium. Because for many Belgians, beyond the community aspects of our little country, Zaventem remains above all a national reference in the air sector, no matter whether one is Flemish, Walloon or Brussels.

The site “Planet II” fullfilled this, with a desk surface and hangar correct and affordable, and especially quite easily scalable. It has become a real small immersive universe, entirely dedicated to the activity. Its only drawback is to be sometimes a bit difficult to find, but we work to make it better known!

Did you add some elements to the initial prototype?

Absolutely! The most important thing is that, from the start, I wanted to build a passenger cabin behind and attached to the cockpit, in order to be able to take people other than the pilots into this experience.

In the initial garage, it was impossible to achieve, it only existed on paper. But once in the premises of Zaventem, with my friends and associates, we implemented these plans.

B737 cockpit with cabin!

And the cabin is an incredible success! Adjacent to the cockpit, it has real airplane seats, and especially portholes with side view, plunging all participants into a huge immersive image.

The cockpit-cabin set is placed in the center of a gigantic U-shaped or horseshoe shaped screen, measuring 5 meters in diameter and extending over 7 meters long. Once in flight, you are fully immersed in this image, which creates an incredibly realistic virtual universe.

Can you tell us about the “dynamic control loading system” used for force feedback?

As I said, for me it was imperative to develop a hyper-realistic flight simulator. One of the weak points of many “general public” simulators is the flight controls, which are often equipped with spring springs to create a false dynamic. These are kind of large format joysticks. I did not want it.

Dynamic Control Loading from FSC Italy

So I chose to invest in a “dynamic control loading system” which, with the help of motors on the axes and adapted software, reproduces very accurately the loads and the aerodynamic effects on the controls. It works incredibly well.

Small parenthesis, the throttles are also motorized, as in the real 737, which gives to see a surprising spectacle when the autopilot is engaged: both throttles and flight controls begin to move alone! Impressive.

Are there other simulators?

Yes, we also mounted a Cessna 172 and 6 stations that we named “LSS” for “Light Simulator Station”.

The Cessna has an immersive visual system, a little bit more modest than the B737 but still very impressive. It is equipped with a traditional dashboard with the good old “six-pack”, the basic instrument kit that any budding pilot learns to use. It can even fly in “IFR” conditions, that means instruments-based flight and navigation. Not bad for basic training, or fun flights.

A classic C172 simulator

The LSS are PC stations equipped with 2 screens (a screen for the instruments, and a large 4K panel for the external visual) as well as configurable flight controls. They can be configured in F16 as well as in Cessna, through acro aircraft, airliners or even gliders or helicopters.

All this was developed with the same philosophy and the same passion as the Boeing, and thanks to the help still reinforced by an incredible team, including a brilliant IT-man with a wide scope of proficiency and operational skills!

Is it interactive?

Absolutely! All simulators are networked and can fly in the same virtual airspace. Everyone therefore literally sees the others in its simulation environment, which allows to perform lots of didactic or fun missions, one does not exclude the other! From flying formation to Boeing interception by F16s, to frantic races in the mountain valleys. Topissime!

Interactive event with IVAO (playing here Brussels Control)

What can a “lambda” person expect from a flight simulation session at BFSIM, and is there an age limit and preliminary knowledge / skills required?

All sessions are supervised by instructors or professional operators, depending on the situation. The Boeing is started in the first minutes of the session, and even people with no knowledge of aviation can fly the aircraft very quickly, under the advice and guidance of the instructor, because we take off immediately and explain in flight ! It’s very fun, it crashes sometimes (an approach and a landing is a big challenge, and for some people, just taking off is already a perilous operation), everyone has fun and it demystifies the aviation by the same opportunity !

It is sometimes the occasion of challenges like “in flight, both pilots are HS, poisoned by a bad meal; you are the brave passengers who will try to land the plane just with the help radio of the air controller” . Laughs, sensations – and screams – guaranteed!

Open to young people over 10/12 y.o.

The age is minimum 10-12 years. Because flying a plane is still quite technical, we are far from video games, we must focus and understand what we do. But no prerequisite is needed, it’s just “Start and Go”!

An element that also seduces most of the “pilot for a day” is knowing that they are at the controls of a simulator also used by real pilots during their training.

And a pilot?

Pilots come to us for a super complete simulator, with high-end realistic flight controls, an ultra-reliable flight model that perfectly reproduces the aircraft’s behavior, and highly accurate pitch / power compliance – basic parameters that any pilot must know and master.

And most importantly, pilots can benefit from the advised advice of instructors who know the machine very well, but also the real plane, as well as the programs requested by many companies during the interviews of sim-checks. All this is provided at a very low price compared to other solutions like big “full flight” simulators, not always necessary for all steps of training or preparations.

Also a great B737NG simulator for professional training

I also heard about group activities or team building with companies, you have set up a special program?

For companies, our facilities can accommodate up to 16 people simultaneously, which we then divide into 4 teams of 4, and to whom we propose a super varied program that will make them perform missions and challenges on the various simulators. Enriching, involving, informative, fun, collaborative or competitive: all the ingredients are there for an extraordinary moment and a thousand miles away from the traditional team building activities.

Another fun application of our facilities: we regularly host birthday parties or even stag or bachelor parties for young men – or girls, yes, yes! – which always guarantees intense moments full of rich emotions!

Team Building – Photo Finish

Do you have other projects under development or to come?

Yes, we are working on F16 / F35 fighter jets, on an Airbus A320 project, on VR experience (soon to be operational), and other surprises to discover in the not-too-distant future! To be followed, I will not say more at this time …

What if you had to summarize your competitive advantages?

We are simply the best in Europe, in the range of what we propose. Our unique facilities give us an unparalleled advantage.

But to answer you a little more precisely, I would first point the Boeing 737 with its hyper professional and realistic features, with its “dynamic control loading system”, and its very faithful flight model.

The cabin to board up to 8 passengers in the Boeing 737 in full immersion is unique and exclusive.

The method of taking controls virtually illico upon arrival in the simulator, even for a neophyte, is extremely well developed and honed, better than anywhere else.

The complementarity of the other simulators and group activities is also incomparable, also thanks to the networking possibilities of all the simulators.

A final word?

Pilots benefit from a low-cost professional simulator with unparalleled visual immersion, and the general public immerses themselves in this ultra realistic immersion by taking in their hands entirely professional controls … Or how to combine the strengths of the two approaches without compromise!

Everyone is welcome at BFSIM!

© BFSIM 2018

One thought on “Brussels Flight Simulators started exactly 4 years ago in the bubbling imagination of Pierre Van Walleghem”

  • Enkele weken geleden eerste maal uitgeprobeerd onder begeleiding van Pierre, en heel veel bijgeleerd. Op zijn advies heb ik het 737 PMDG (FSX) software pakket aangekocht, en dat is echt fenomenaal realistisch ! Momenteel aan het oefenen op een vlucht, met volledige opstart vanuit ‘Cold & Dark’. Ga zeker in het voorjaar nog eens terug naar BFS om dit eens in de praktijk te brengen op de echte simulator, en nog wat verder te oefenen op de navigatie (VOR, instellen FMC, correct gebruik van de MCP met VNav en LNav) en het vlekkeloos landen (was een beetje slordig vorige keer). BFS – echt een aanrader voor elke flightsimmer.

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