News | May 30, 2017

80 reasons this company gladly improved Air Force simulators

SBIR program spurred software innovation in Florida that saves taxpayers

News Article Image of 80 reasons this company gladly improved Air Force simulators

An A-10 Thunderbolt II fires and air-to-surface missile over the Grand Bay Bombing and Gunnery Range at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Feb. 11, 2016. (Air Force/SSG Brian Valencia)

For over 15 years, a small company in Florida has made training pilots cheaper for the Air Force by advancing virtual flight simulations.

Distributed Simulation Technology’s (DiSTI) development of graphics software using the OpenGL platform allowed Air Force trainers to observe cockpit instruments on video screens outside the simulator.

It also put the startup company on a path to hiring 80 employees.

“Using real instruments was expensive, tens of thousands of dollars in each cockpit,” said Joe Swinski, DiSTI’s president and CEO. “So instead of using real instruments, they’d put in virtual instruments developed using GL Studio.”

In the late 1990s, the Air Force simulators ran on graphic workstations, while real instruments and gauges below the simulator displayed speed, altitude, and other avionics information.

In 1998, DiSTI engineers won an Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contract to find a way to read networked simulator data and display it for instructors.

The control panel of the virtual cockpit. Screenshot courtesy of DiSTI.

The improved simulations were first used in A-10 “Warthog” flight simulators, but as it was transforming the industry, GL Studio was also opening the door for additional business.

The Navy gave DiSTI its next major contract, to use GL Studio to create the first fully interactive 3-D trainer to help maintenance personnel learn how to service the F/A-18 “Hornet” fighter jet.

As its offerings grew in both the aviation and virtual maintenance training spaces, DiSTI won business from commercial companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and Raytheon.

“Today, we’re growing in the automotive space and the embedded world,” Swinski said. “We’ve leveraged the technology that we built years ago as the business has migrated.”