“Our favorite airport is not available in your simulator, can you install it?” – this common question receives a usual response “Awww… Not again…”. Let’s think what makes such a regular procedure so gloomy. The answer is quite simple: procedure must be difficult to achieve, risky to perform and is boringly time consuming. But then again, it has to be done. The only question is – how?
Each Full Flight Simulator is using various databases. Part of them in general can be called „Navigation Databases“. These databases contain navigation data like: list of airports and their coordinates, radio navigation facilities (including ILS, VOR, DME etc.) and frequencies of their radio signals etc. However databases are distributed over different systems in different formats: mainly over Host and FMS computers.
Host Computer Navigation Database is usually called Ground Stations Database (GSD). After purchasing database a new cycle release directly from Jeppesen you will get raw text file which contains data assembled in ARINC 424 format. ARINC 424 is a well known standard which describes the structure of aircraft navigation data inside data file. Note that ARINC 424 has several different versions available while the newest version is version 20 which was published in 12/2011.
After purchasing GSD data file in ARINC 424 format you have to upload it to the simulator’s Host Computer. It’s always easier said than done. Some challenges can be waiting for your efforts if you are going to update GSD on older Simulator where original Host Computer is still in use.
Most likely challenges that you may face:
- Inaccurate or confusing original updating procedures.
- Updating procedures are extensively time consuming.
- Updating procedures can be done in Host Computer command line interface.Data media is no longer supported or hard to find.
The original GSD uploading and compiling procedure can be void if Host Computer was updated or modified and original facilities are out of service. Quite often Host Computer update requires to replace old data storage drives with more contemporary versions (e.g. 1/2” Magnetic Tape Reel drive conversion to SCSI Tape Drive with DDS magnetic tape cartridges). Original simulator documentation describes how to update GSD from Tape Reel, however it is not available in simulator anymore.
Let’s assume that you found a solution to upload data file to either Magnetic Tape and you are ready to proceed further with GSD update. You still need to use original compiler software which may be same age as simulator. Did you notice how much computers and software has advanced in the past 20 years? It would be great to proceed and compile data using more contemporary tools and software and upload prepared files directly to Host Computer without any further data interaction.
We are using specific GSD compiler software for this purpose. It is quite small software which runs on regular PC computer under Linux SuSE operating system. This compiler is developed to compile ARINC 424 format data file directly into simulator manufacturer specified binary format and send compiled files over Ethernet to host computer. However this handy software has some limitations. Even though it provides opportunity to edit some small chunks of data (e.g. ILS frequency, airport Magnetic variation etc.), it is still unable to perform some larger database modifications like adding completely new Airport to database.
In my own experience I noticed the following advantages while using the third parties GSD database Editing and Compiling software:
- Safety First. If you are editing or compiling database on a separate dedicated computer which is not connected to live simulator system, then virtually you are out of troubles to make any harm to actual Host Computer work and its configuration.
- Less down time for the simulator. You can prepare your GSD database without putting the simulator offline.
- Infinite Backups in a blink of an eye. You can feel free to make a backup at any step of your work progress.
- Familiar work interface. I would say that nowadays term “computer experience” sounds equal as “Windows operating system experience”. Sure, you can argue with me, but it is hard to imagine a single person who has few years of contemporary computers experience but never worked with Windows. Well, slightly advanced user will feel familiar enough to work with Linux as well. And I am talking about everyday actions like: log into system, start an application, uploading files to data storage media etc.
- Does not require senior engineers to perform task. This is good simply because: less experienced engineers will have an opportunity to learn about GSD databases and senior engineers will be able to take care of more complicated stuff.
Well, you can blame me about possibility to corrupt consistency of GSD database and make a mess with data cycles while modifying some piece of database, however looking from the practical side, you may need to update small portion of specific data or include a specific airport to existing database without replacing data of entire Geo Area.
As far as I noticed on my own research, I didn’t find any software available on the market yet which can edit any required portion of data, split or merge databases, and which works in most popular operating system and makes your work with ARINC 424 format data file as easy and intuitively as you are writing your regular emails with your favorite email client application from your office desk computer. So I decided to create it on my own.