5DT Taking Flight

By 5DT editorial team

5DT recently successfully completed the Aircrew Training System (ATS) project – their biggest project yet.


The ATS was developed for the South African Air Force (SAAF) to fulfill the following training requirements:

  • Training of student navigators and instructor navigators
  • Procedural training for aircrew
  • Procedural training for maritime aircrew in conjunction with the South African Navy
  • Procedural conversion and continuation training for squadron aircrew

The ATS was built from the ground up at the Ysterplaat Air Force Base near Cape Town. The design and construction of the purpose-designed and purpose-built facility formed part of the project. 5DT was contracted by Armscor on behalf of the SAAF. The ATS project was unusual in the regard that it was a fairly large development project contracted to a small company directly through Armscor. 5DT has risen to the challenge and is now recognized as a level 5 contractor to Armscor. This puts 5DT in the same category as large contractors such as BAE Systems and Thales.

The ATS project is the biggest project ever undertaken by 5DT. The first phase of the project (simulation of fixed-wing aircraft) started in 2004 and the last phase (simulation of helicopters) was completed in 2015. The project value was in excess of 60 million rand. 5DT teamed up with Mabaitisi Consultancy and Training for the last phase of the project.

The facility consists of seventeen different rooms and spaces, including a briefing auditorium, a mission planning room, a simulator room for fixed-wing aircraft, a simulator room for helicopters, two classrooms, two cloakrooms, a senior crew room, two crew rooms, two offices, a storeroom, a mini workshop and an entertainment verandah with the best view of Table Mountain in South Africa.

The ATS contains the following functionality and features:

  • Scenario Manager
  • Visual Display System (VDS)
  • Virtual Instruments
  • Sensor Simulations
  • Voice Recognition
  • Mission Planning System
  • Mission Rehearsal System
  • Virtual Pilot System
  • Terrain Databases
  • Communications System
  • Aircraft Simulation
  • Airspace Visualizer
  • Interface to Command Team Trainer (CTT)
  • Record and Playback System

The VDS software renders different weather conditions (clouds, wind), different sea conditions, 3D entities (ships, aircraft, submarines, survivors, debris), different times of day (day, dusk, night, dawn), terrain databases and a thermal infrared camera view.

The ATS utilizes a flexible distributed simulation architecture to harness the power of multiple personal computers towards a single goal. The stable implementation of such an architecture among 31 computers was not a trivial task, but the benefits offered made this task worthwhile. This setup provides the SAAF with significant reliability and efficient redundancy which has contributed to the system’s 100 percent availability for training over the past 5 years.

The flight characteristics of several aircraft have been modeled. These included so-called fixed-wing aircraft and rotary wing aircraft (helicopters). The Dakota C-47, Cessna Caravan C-208, Boeing 707 and Lockheed C-130 fixed-wing aircraft and SuperLynx maritime helicopter were simulated.

The student and cockpit workstations of the ATS use touchscreens so that students can interact with functional instruments. The full range of flight and navigation instruments is simulated, from basic flight instruments to fully simulated navigation processors and radar systems. Instructors are able to apply errors to instruments and sensors in order to evaluate students’ performance across the range of sensor performance. The ATS is designed with multiple platforms in mind and is able to load different instrument models according to the training requirements.

The ATS uses voice recognition technology to allow students to interact with a virtual pilot. The virtual pilot is programmed to only respond to correctly phrased commands and requests, so students are forced to use the correct terminology and to speak clearly. The voice recognition engine is trained using each student’s voice, so a broad range of accents can be accommodated. The system is also equipped with a multi-channel communications system that is based on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The Mission Planning System is provided to give students exposure to the type of mission planning that they will eventually encounter in practice. The Mission Planning System is integrated into the rest of the ATS system so that a student’s performance can be measured according to the planned missions. Once a mission has been planned, the student can perform a 3D rehearsal of the planned mission in order to verify specific elements of the flight plan, e.g. clearance of terrain and radio communications. The planned mission can then be flown in the simulator over a virtual terrain (terrain database). The flown simulated mission is recorded and can be played back in the debriefing auditorium.

The ATS contains a terrain database that covers the whole of South Africa as well as eight key airfields throughout the country. Each airfield is built completely with runways, taxiways and representative runway lighting. The ATS uses unique terrain paging technology that allows the virtual aircraft to fly across large terrain areas without the loading delay usually associated with large terrains.

An interface was developed to link the ATS with the CTT of the South African Navy. This interface facilitates joint force training between the Air Force and the Navy – a first for South Africa.

5DT has recently also completed a scaled-down testbed of the Maritime Helicopter Training Simulator at its headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa. This system will be made available for internal viewing on specific days.

A short video of the system:

The ATS project has been selected by the South African Department of Defence as a case study of a successful project for its project officer’s course that is presented annually. Course delegates visit the ATS for this purpose.

The system has been visited by several international air force delegations. The delegations include (inter alia) the Swedish, Zambian, Taiwanese, United States, United Kingdom and Italian air forces.

The project also led to the establishment of the following facilities and capabilities within 5DT:

  • Computer-aided design (CAD) facility consisting of several Solidworks workstations
  • 3D scanning and 3D printing facility
  • Systems engineering capability
  • Configuration management and quality management capability


This project established a solid aerospace and defence simulation capability within 5DT.

The final phase of the project was handed over to the SAAF at a ceremony at Ysterplaat Air Force Base in July 2015.

ATS training Centre