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Australian Defence Force Builds $1.7m Linux-Based Flight Simulator 232

Posted by timothy
from the send-some-love-to-flightgear dept.
scrubl writes "The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has revealed its latest flight simulator runs on SUSE Linux-based clusters of Opteron servers and uses an open source graphics platform. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation's (DSTO) Air Operations Simulation Centre in Melbourne creates virtual worlds that allow pilots to experience real-world combat situations without leaving the ground. The visuals software was written in OpenGL, using commercial and open source scene graph engines and making 'heavy use of OpenGL Shader Language programs.'"
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Australian Defence Force Builds $1.7m Linux-Based Flight Simulator

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  • Kangaroos (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:22PM (#29254531) Homepage Journal
    Kangaroos with stinger missiles?
  • Instead of going with a licensed OS like Windows or VxWorks, they saved tens of dollars. Smart thinking and good use of money in these tough economic times.

    It would be nice to see other departments try to realize these types of gains.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:13PM (#29254913) Journal
      Tens of dollars? The last military flight sim I played with cost £20m, which is about $32m (or $38m if we're talking Australian $) at the current exchange rate. Possibly costs have come down a lot since then, but they seem to have saved a lot of money somewhere. It was quite fun to fly - panoramic views through the simulated cockpit windows and hydraulic systems moving it in response to my actions - but it was even more fun to sit in the instructors' chair and add a flight in interceptors just as the pilot was coming up for mid-air refuelling.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BitZtream (692029)

        Which is why the cost savings on running Linux is funny.

        Did you not hear the whoosh go by your head?

        Spend millions of dollars on a project, and do stupid things like cut corners that save you statistically irrelevant amounts of money on the project and result in a far more difficult to support product.

        And before someone starts screaming about how its better because its OSS, when you do a project like this, even Microsoft will give you source in order to get their name stamped on it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Spend millions of dollars on a project, and do stupid things like cut corners that save you statistically irrelevant amounts of money on the project and result in a far more difficult to support product.

          Agreed that in a project that size the direct cost of the operating system will be relatively small.

          But there are many indirect costs resulting from the choice of operating system. There may be better or less expensive development tools available for Linux versus Windows. There may be more or better or less expensive graphics/rendering libraries and other software available for Linux as opposed to Windows. It may be that the software for turning a pile of Linux boxes into a rendering farm is free or less ex

          • by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @07:40PM (#29255583) Journal

            It may be that the software for turning a pile of Linux boxes into a rendering farm is free or less expensive or more efficient than the equivalent for Windows.

            Indeed. It's not a coincidence that only 5 of Top500's list [top500.org] are pure Windows environments.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            There may be more or better or less expensive graphics/rendering libraries and other software available for Linux as opposed to Windows. It may be that the software for turning a pile of Linux boxes into a rendering farm is free or less expensive or more efficient than the equivalent for Windows.

            I remember the keynote to the Queensland TechEd 2007 where they showed the some 600,000 rendered penguins (no, not Tux) in one scene for the animated film Happy Feet. Then I remembered the producer saying the render farm was several thousand Windows boxes running NT4. This in 2007, mind you.

            Then I thought -- there's no way Microsoft would have known about the licenses for those thousands of servers, they were so old, and that many would have crippled their budget ...

            So there you have it. The state of the

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dbIII (701233)
          How many Microsoft based clusters have you heard of? Solaris or a pile of others - yes, but this is the sort of platform that Microsoft have only recently become aware of so their software is not suitable.
        • by mjwx (966435) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @09:29PM (#29256217)

          even Microsoft will give you source in order to get their name stamped on it.

          Microsoft has twice before refused to give the source code for Windows for Warships to the Australian Navy, what makes you think the RAAF will have any more luck. The US govt will block this as they have fears that this will be leaked to the soviets (throwback to some 1960's paranoia when Australia was being blamed for intel leaks caused by a CIA double agent)

          Which is why the cost savings on running Linux is funny.

          How, the chair is not just a copy of MS Flight simulator X on a big screen, it's a hydraulic control system that needs to make precise movements in real time to correspond with input, Windows cant even control a mechanical lathe with millimetre accuracy, that's why DOS is still popular in the assembly line. Besides the RAAF's biggest cost isn't in software or hardware, its in operational costs. To achieve similar results using Windows (.net and what not) you need to use more powerful HW, increasing the amount of power it needs, cooling requirements and above all else, maintenance. Windows breaks more often then Linux, so the RAAF would need to spend more time on maintenance with a windows based system.

          Spend millions of dollars on a project, and do stupid things like cut corners that save you statistically irrelevant amounts of money on the project and result in a far more difficult to support product.

          The RAAF would have evaluated all the options, Windows simply could not perform the job the RAAF asked of it. No corners were cut here. This didn't save "statistically irrelevant amounts of money", the project provided a machine that fits the specifications detailed by the RAAF.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      Instead of going with a licensed OS like Windows...

      They had to, Microsoft canned Flight Sim. Though I know of a load of unemployed guys who have some experience in writing this kind of software :)

    • Traditionally this has been the realm of SGI boxes. So really there should be a comment somewhere about SGI being dead.
    • Sweet! A flight simulator. Now all they need is an air force! Now we know what they are saving money for!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by visualight (468005)

      What makes you think price is why they chose open source? People that are doing high performance computing and visualization are almost exclusively linux. Microsoft has been trying to give it away to those people for years with little success.

      Anyway, your comment was funny and worth a mod up, just wanted to point out that if they really wanted to save money they could have cut a deal with microsoft. I've seen how far they're willing to go to buy a customer in this market.

      • by Darkk (1296127)

        Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) been using Linux for workstations and rendering farms for years. They said running the apps on linux ran 5 times faster than SGI workstation with the same spec'd hardware! The computer generated special effects on Pirates of the Caribbean were done almost entirely in linux.

        Here is a nice write up article about it... http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/6011 [linuxjournal.com]

        • by Alpha830RulZ (939527) on Monday August 31, 2009 @01:24AM (#29257475)

          Linux has had an in here for some years now, due to earlier 64 bit support, and better/earlier support for large numbers of files in a directory. I work for a division of a fortune 500 that does datamining/text mining. Windows lost us in about 2004 for these two reasons, and there hasn't been any reason to go back. Cost wasn't the original reason, but cost keeps us from changing. $800 a machine adds up when you are looking at dozens or hundreds of rendering/compute servers. Linux has also proven to be easier for command and control of the jobs. The one thing that I long for is the full featured user identification/authentication support that Active Directory has.

    • Nowhere in the article did they mention that the price of O/S licensing was a consideration.

      Considering the boffins at DSTO have been using Unix variants for many years for this type of work I doubt that they would have chosen Windows for this even if it were free.

    • Fool! They chose Linux for purely technical reasons. Have you ever tried running a command line flight simulator on Windows? No? I didn't think so.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dbIII (701233)
      It also gets to use more than 2GB of memory and they also get to use nice available numerical processing libraries that may have never been ported to MS Windows. Also take a look at the summary. It mentions a cluster. Clustering on MS Windows is still in it's very early stages and is of little use apart from simple load spreading and high availability so the users don't notice that MS Exchange has crashed. Take another look at the summary - openGL - all the hard work on drawing the images is done on big
  • I like flight sims. Only games I still play are Falcon 4.0: Allied Force and X-Plane. But If I'm not mistaken, there a professional version of X-plane that's FAA rated. Why not start there?

  • Not really news. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:33PM (#29254629)

    I used to work for L3 Simulation - one of the biggest suppliers of flight simulation gear around the world. We used massive diskless Linux clusters for making flight simulator graphics systems - and have been doing it for maybe 10 years now. We used our own Linux distro, software written in C++ and using OpenGL for graphics with nVidia graphics cards. Pretty much every F16 pilot out there plus most US helicopter pilots train regularly on Linux-based flight simulators.

    On a typical system, we'd either use a helmet-mounted display driven by two PC's or a dodecahedral "Simusphere" display with 9 rear-projected pentagonal panels surrounding the cockpit mockup. Each display would be driven by either 1 or 4 PC's with a hardware gizmo that combined four raster displays into a single video projector.

    Additional Linux PC's were used to stream graphics data into the graphics PC's - more were used to draw the HUD and ancilliary displays within the plane.

    The machines were diskless - booting from a central server over 1GHz ethernet. The reason for leaving off the disks on the 'slave' machines was to improve reliability. When you have 64 PC's - the reliability of all of those hard drives would result in more frequent failures than we could tolerate.

    Neat stuff - but hardly new!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by duguk (589689)
      Very cool, thanks! I was really impressed until you said "1GHz ethernet". That seems... unlikely =D
      • Re:Not really news. (Score:4, Informative)

        by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:16PM (#29254929) Homepage

        Very cool, thanks! I was really impressed until you said "1GHz ethernet". That seems... unlikely =D

        He was probably mixing up his terms when referring to gigabit ether [wikipedia.org]. It's not the fastest thing on the block, but it's still pretty nippy (and definitely beats what most people have deployed to desktop level) and the faster options (notably Infiniband) tend to only be used in specialist applications like tightly-coupled supercomputers.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Most people have gigabit at the desktop now, its been standard for the last few years on desktop PCs

          • by dkf (304284)

            Most people have gigabit at the desktop now, its been standard for the last few years on desktop PCs

            That doesn't mean anything if you've not got a gigabit switch at the other end. And even if you've got that fancy switch, if your connection to the outside world is like most peoples', you'll only be able to use that bandwidth locally. Great for LAN parties, but not much point otherwise.

            • by swb (14022)

              So everybody should only have 1.5Mbit ethernet, because T1 speeds are some kind of standard outside the LAN?

              Gig switches aren't fancy. The last one I bought was $50 and supported jumbo frames.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Which is ... gigabit ethernet ... which is rather common, can you even buy a computer without it now?

      • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @07:25PM (#29255457)

        And it can make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

    • by amn108 (1231606)

      The machines were diskless - booting from a central server over 1GHz ethernet

      You mean 1 Gbps Ethernet, right?

  • Given that air forces seem to be moving to unmanned drone fighters, it seems silly to build a new flight sim for traditional *pilot* training at this stage. I wonder if it's aimed at training remote drone "pilots" instead.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:43PM (#29254697) Homepage Journal

      There's still a lot of work for human pilots, and there probably will be for at least another generation. The first UAVs that can handle manned-aircraft combat tasks are just now being deployed, and in many ways they're Not There Yet. Are you suggesting that air forces should stop training pilots now on the assumption that drones will take up the slack?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by michaelhood (667393)

        There's still a lot of work for human pilots, and there probably will be for at least another generation. The first UAVs that can handle manned-aircraft combat tasks are just now being deployed, and in many ways they're Not There Yet. Are you suggesting that air forces should stop training pilots now on the assumption that drones will take up the slack?

        It's also worth mentioning that current-generation UAVs like the Predator are fully human-controlled by remote.

        Related, interesting link: http://www.military.com/news/article/human-error-cited-in-most-uav-crashes.html [military.com]

    • by f0dder (570496)
      With pilots you don't have to worry about your drone asset getting hijacked by a rogue controller.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      This is Australia, we will be loving the f111 long time :)
    • by Skillet5151 (972916) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:27PM (#29255025)
      Unmanned aircraft may be getting pretty good at firing missiles at buildings but I speculate that they're pretty far from being able to compare to the abilities of a real pilot in most situations. I'm sure Australia (like the US) coordinates its military to be prepared for a real war against another country as opposed to just the anti-insurgent potshot operations that UAVs are so good at.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      An immersive simulation environment will be quite useful when UAS sensors evolve sufficient to give an immersive operator environment.

      One of the objections to UAS is that the "stovepipe" situational awareness is limiting. Increased operator situational awareness can improve safety as well as combat effectiveness. Instead of being a "scope dope", a UAS operator in an immersive environment could employ their system much more like a manned aircraft.

    • by Ocker3 (1232550)
      The Australian Air Force isn't going drone-only anytime soon. The Army has a number of UAVs in scout and recon roles, but we're still focused on piloted craft for ATA and ATG roles. Not even the USAF is going all-drone.
  • What a delight! Where do I order one? "Bandit on your six, Mate!"
  • Screenies or it didn't happen.

    I'm a little disappointed the journalists couldn't ask nicely for some in-sim imagery. This thing must be pretty! I presume current generation military flight simulators have amazing detail like volumetric clouds, weather conditions and atmospheric effects that were traditionally the hardest to replicate in the past.
  • Okay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:08PM (#29254869)
    we get it already Linux is used everywhere for all sorts of computing needs. Why is this news in 2009?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eil (82413)

      Because it's damn cool, that's why.

    • by GF678 (1453005)

      we get it already Linux is used everywhere for all sorts of computing needs. Why is this news in 2009?

      Simple - the year of the desktop has been promised for god-knows how long and still hasn't taken hold in significant numbers, so some people need reassurance that Linux is being used in other areas to justify their faith in the platform.

  • Does it run lin--

    Oh wait.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:09PM (#29254881) Homepage

    Flight simulators are good and all, but even the most expensive simulators are missing an important element -- gravity force feedback in some form or another. Not only do the controls need to feed back, but the cockpit should too. And when we are talking about military aircraft operations, that kind of simulation is quite likely impossible without putting the pilot into a centrifuge.

    On the other hand, if this simulation system were for training people to control unmanned craft, then it's perfect I should think.

    Now as for the $1.7m spent? That is an impressively inexpensive system if it matches or beats those that cost $10m or more.

    • by RobVB (1566105) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @06:21PM (#29254969)
      Actually, the most expensive simulator [nasa.gov] has gravity force feedback.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eil (82413)

      Flight simulators are good and all, but even the most expensive simulators are missing an important element -- gravity force feedback in some form or another. Not only do the controls need to feed back, but the cockpit should too. And when we are talking about military aircraft operations, that kind of simulation is quite likely impossible without putting the pilot into a centrifuge.

      Military and commercial flight simulators do have gravity force feedback. They are mounted on a hydraulic platform so that whe

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by erroneus (253617)

        I'm aware of these rather expensive simulators, but they don't simulate 100% of g-forces in the most natural way. I've been in the one at the Mississippi Naval Air Station. It's cool but it feels like a simulator. You simply don't get the g-forces that you would in real jet flight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wronskyMan (676763)
      Actually, many sims do not require force feedback. Pilots generally learn the "mechanics" of feel and how to control a plane in relatively inexpensive prop/jet trainers in basic pilot training. Much of what sims are used for is switchology - how to run checklists and operate all the complex electronic gear in a modern cockpit. With the more rote items committed to muscle memory, pilots can focus on the "feel" in the actual airplane since their flow/checks come automatically. In addition, very realistic emer
  • I suppose it's possible, but seems very unlikely...

  • Since X-Plane runs on Linux at this point, I'd have to say spending 1.7m for a Linux flight sim just makes you fucking retarded.

    www.x-plane.com

    And before anyone says something stupid, its FAA certified for training and used by several aircraft manufactures for training of pilots, certification of their test pilots, and most importantly, design testing.

    Hell Bell uses it to train thier pilots on military prototypes that are too expensive to actually put the pilot in and scaled composites uses it to test their

    • by ThePeices (635180)

      Well there you go, if Hell Bell is using it, then people who are not are just fools!

      But, not to insult your obviously incredible intellect ( judging from your scornful post ), ever thought that maybe ( just *maybe* ) X-Plane doesnt fit their needs exactly?

    • by temojen (678985)
      'Cause training someone to fly exactly according to the flight plan, and never below 1000 feet except on approach is the same as training someone to fly in military situations...
    • by MrCreosote (34188)

      I must have missed the part on the x-plane website that shows how it can 'allow pilots to experience real-world combat situations' and 'is also configurable, which allows the evaluation of "novel systems and concepts"'

      And where does it say that the AUD 1.7M is on software?

  • by Zantetsuken (935350) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @08:02PM (#29255697) Homepage
    FTFA:

    All the nodes run Suse Linux. Unlike traditional Linux clusters, which focus on throughput, these systems are tuned for real-time performance - using features of the kernel such as memory locking, real-time scheduling and low-delay communication.

    They didn't use Linux "just because it has zero licensing costs" - they used it because Windows isn't going to give them the real time performance on physics simulations that they wanted, to track every projectile and object within a given area takes power, but also has to be able to give the results instantly.

  • by SEWilco (27983)
    Australia wants to be free.
  • Yep.. Didn't think so.

    Useless waste of money, if you ask me .....

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