Cold War, Two Minute Read

NC-131H Total Inflight Simulator – An Aviation Marvel

If there’s a single word to describe the world of aviation technology, it would be ‘fascinating.’ It is an area marked by an intersection of imagination and innovation and of the many marvels in this sphere, the NC-131H Total Inflight Simulator (TIFS) stands out for its unique characteristics and contributions to aviation history.

What is the NC-131H Total Inflight Simulator?

The NC-131H TIFS is an aviation icon – a unique and specialized aircraft that played an indispensable role in aviation research and pilot training for over three decades.

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This modified Convair 580 (also known as the C-131 Samaritan in military service), a product of the Air Force’s Aeronautical Systems Division and Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories (later Calspan), was the first-ever complete inflight simulator.

The C-131 Samaritan.
The C-131 Samaritan.

It was designed to mimic the flight characteristics of virtually any aeroplane.

Its flexibility allowed it to accurately replicate the handling qualities and systems of a multitude of aircraft – from fighters and bombers to commercial airliners.

An Engineering Marvel

The NC-131H TIFS is a marvel of engineering, equipped with a secondary, independent cockpit protruding from the nose of the aircraft.

This variable-stability cockpit is capable of altering its flight characteristics on demand, imitating the aerodynamic performance of other aircraft.

The remaining original cockpit of the Convair C131 Samaritan now at the rear of the TIFS, was used by safety pilots to monitor and take control if needed.

The two cockpits clearly visible.
The two cockpits clearly visible.

In addition to the innovative cockpit design, the TIFS was equipped with computerized flight controls and advanced avionics.

This made it possible for the pilots to change the flight parameters mid-flight, adjusting the controls to match those of other aircraft types, including those still in development.

Thus, the TIFS was not just a simulator; it was also an invaluable tool for testing and evaluating prototype flight control systems.

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Impact on Aviation

The NC-131H TIFS served as a significant milestone in aviation history.

By allowing pilots to simulate different aircraft behaviour in a real flight environment, the TIFS revolutionized flight training and aircraft testing.

It reduced the risks associated with testing new flight systems and helped cut down on the cost and time involved in the development of new aircraft.

Furthermore, the TIFS played a pivotal role in the training of test pilots and astronauts.

The NC-131H is now a museum piece.
The NC-131H is now a museum piece.

It facilitated the development of their skills, provided them with experience in handling various flight scenarios, and significantly improved their understanding of complex aircraft behaviour.

Conclusion: A Lasting Legacy

After decades of valuable service, the NC-131H Total Inflight Simulator was retired in 2008.

It is preserved and displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

This allows it to continue its legacy by educating the public about its unique capabilities and significant contributions to aviation.

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The NC-131H TIFS has been and continues to be, a testament to the significant strides made in aviation technology and training methods.

While it’s no longer operational, it serves as a rich source of inspiration and learning for aviation enthusiasts, students, engineers, and scientists.

It’s worth noting that the data collected during its operational years continues to be used in studies and for the development of newer, more advanced flight simulators.

Thus, while it may be retired from active service, the NC-131H TIFS continues to influence the evolution of aviation.

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  • Crew: four
  • Capacity: 48 passengers (when used as an airliner)
  • Length: 79 ft 2 in (24.14 m)
  • Wingspan: 105 ft 4 in (32.11 m)
  • Height: 28 ft 2 in (8.59 m)
  • Wing area: 920 sq ft (85.5 m2)
  • Empty weight: 29,248 lb (13,294 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 47,000 lb (21,363 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-99 “Double Wasp” 18 cylinder air cooled radial engines, 2,500 hp (1,865 kW) each
  • Maximum speed: 293 mph (472 km/h, 255 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 254 mph (409 km/h, 221 kn)
  • Range: 450 mi (725 km, 391 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 24,500 ft (7,470 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,410 ft/min (7.2 m/s)