The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics has a monthly trade magazine called _Aerospace America_.  The most recent issue (January 2005) contains an article in the "Systems and Software" department:  "More than games for flying planes."  The article spends a bit of time on Microsoft's Flight Simulator program and then has a heading "Open source solution."  The article then concludes:

"The use of COTS (commercial off the shelf) software such as FS brings up a critical matter in the aerospace and defense industry:  the open source issue.  At the AIAA's recent Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, a panel discussion raised an important question:  How can engineers use and modify COTS tools to best meet their needs?  There are a number of approaches to solving this problem, but for each approach, someone has to give up some control, revenue, or features.  Software vendors and customers must find a way to develop procedures to keep enhancing the state of technology, provide engineers with the tools they need, and allow the software vendors to make money so they can continue to grow.

"An example of how this has worked involves the software product FlightGear, an open-source, multiplatform, cooperative flight simulator development project.  Source code for the entire project is available and licensed under the GNU General Public License.

"The goal of the FlightGear project is to create a sophisticated flight simulator framework for use in research or academic environments, for the development and pursuit of other interesting flight simulation ideas, and as an end-user application.  This loosely organized group is developing a sophisticated, open simulation framework that can be expanded and improved by anyone interested in contributing.

"The idea for FlightGear was born out of dissatisfaction with current commercial PC flight simulators.  A big problem with the COTS simulators is their lack of extensibility and the proprietary attitude of their manufacturers.  There are so many people across the world with great ideas for enhancing these simulators--people who have the ability to write code, and who have a desire to learn and contribute.  Many people in education and research could use a spiffy flight simulator framework on which to build their own projects; but commercial simulators do not lent themselves to modification and enhancement.  The FlightGear project is striving to fill this gap.

"Commercial organizations must find ways to incorporate their proprietary products or features as extensions to lower cost product solutions.  Control simulation software companies such as MathWorks, National Instruments, and others should provide low-level extensions to these existing products or open their algorithms so that others can use the technology to solve the technical aerospace and defense problems that engineers are working on today."


John F. Fay