“It’s all about experiencing the flight before the aircraft actually takes off.”

Tim Neidhardt, Modeling & Simulation Engineer @ERC

“It’s all about experiencing the flight before the aircraft actually takes off.”

Tim Neidhardt, Modeling & Simulation Engineer @ERC

This, as he explains, involves producing dynamic simulations of entire system prototypes. These tools are then used by designers to answer key questions during the development process.

Tim has always been fascinated by the way people and aircraft interact with one another. Because of this, his simulations are focused first and foremost on the human element. By bringing data to life in the form of simulated visualizations, he allows his fellow engineers to experience their designs from a pilot’s perspective.

In this Employee Story, we talk to Tim about his role at ERC and the lifelong passion that led him there.

Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you start by telling us when your dream of flying began and what form it took?

I suppose it all started for me when my parents would occasionally take me to Frankfurt Airport to watch the airplanes taking off and landing. I was utterly fascinated by planes and couldn’t get enough of them. Together with my dad, I built model planes using paper, cardboard, pieces of Kinder Surprise toys and whatever other materials I could lay my hands on at home. But the real game-changer for me was when I first discovered flight simulation software.

So that opened up a whole new world for you?

Absolutely. Back then, my father had Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. Even though, as an ‘immersive experience’, this was of course light years away from the experience of actually flying a plane – or even the simulations we have these days. But being able to steer and control airplanes virtually and simulate their behavior made it clear to me that this is what I wanted to do. And this endless fascination with how people and aircraft interact defined the course of my studies and my career. At the end of the day, it’s all about the pilot’s experience.

How exactly did this “define the course of your studies”?

As an engineering student, I designed autopilots and automation systems that help pilots fly planes. Flight simulation was a very important tool here, as it gave me a better understanding of the automation systems I was working on and allowed me to actually visualize how the plane behaved. So you might say that my work here at ERC was a natural progression from this.

Immersive simulation tools are invaluable in that they bring designs to life, allowing users to have the experience of flying a plane themselves.

Why is it important to focus on the pilot’s perspective when developing airplanes and flight simulators?

Immersive simulation tools are invaluable in that they bring designs to life, allowing users to have the experience of flying a plane themselves. Design engineers often spend their days knee-deep in data and diagrams without ever experiencing the aircraft as a whole. Working with dynamic simulation tools allows them to really get a feel for the overall product in action, to bridge the gap between the human and the physical aspects of the airplane early on in the design process.

So you feel that all engineers who work on aircraft components should use a simulator to test their designs?

Yes, exactly. All engineers need to look at things from the user’s perspective on a regular basis to remind themselves of what they are working towards and what impact their contribution will have. And, in the same way, all aviation engineers need to familiarize themselves with the pilot’s experience, especially if simulations are not generally part of their everyday work.

What kind of things will they learn from this?

For instance, the simulation tool will visualize how fast a propeller accelerates or what it feels like when the aircraft tilts to one side – this is a user-based perspective that they won’t get from data and diagrams. And, of course, these simulations get more and more exciting the closer we get to the final product!

What does your everyday work involve?

Our projects are very collaborative and I do a lot of work with Benedikt Grüter, who was featured in one of your Employee Stories back in December. We use a tool called MATLAB Simulink to design and build simulation models that other departments can use to make decisions and validate their designs. Our focus is on how designs work in an overall context and on the impact they have on the people who use them.

We have insight into lots of different departments in our company while also focusing on ‘the big picture’ – how the aircraft works together as a whole.

In other words, how people and systems work together?

Yes, exactly. And one of the things that still fascinates me most in my work is seeing how the flight simulation tools that I develop are used by my colleagues in Flight Operations and Human Factors to research and optimize this interaction between humans and machines. The nature of our work means that we have insight into lots of different departments in our company while also focusing on what you might call ‘the big picture’ – how the aircraft works together as a whole.

So your work also involves producing simulation models for other departments?

Yes, that is essentially our role as modeling and simulation engineers – to produce and maintain simulation models and tools for other departments to use in their design process. I believe that it’s important for my work as a simulation engineer to take on board lots of different perspectives. The main focus here is on the flight dynamics of the aircraft as a whole, so we have to take into account all relevant components and subsystems – flight control systems, motors, aerodynamics, energy sources and so on. This means that my team colleagues and I have a lot of interaction with other departments and effectively get to ‘assemble’ the airplane before it actually leaves the ground.

What do you think is special about the ERC team?

As you would expect from an innovative project like ours, we have a young, dynamic and highly motivated team, with a healthy mix of working backgrounds, personal experiences and outlooks. Some of the team members also come from other sectors and this often provides useful insights when brainstorming new ideas.

What are the benefits of turning your hobby into a career?

Working at ERC means that I can take the skills that I have been developing on my own over the years and apply them in a professional setting with plenty of resources and a clearly defined goal. And, of course, my colleagues and I learn from each other all the time – that benefits us all, and the company!

Finally, what does #BiggerThanUs mean for you?

For a start, it means that the idea we are working on is bigger than any of us. It means that a group of talented, motivated people are coming together to scale the kind of heights that none of them could ever achieve on their own. It also means that the overall complexity of the project can be broken down into manageable parts for individual teams to work on. And that the final product – what we are all working towards – will be far greater than the sum of these parts.

We would like to thank you, Tim, for sharing with us your experiences and impressions, as well as for the time you took for the interview.

If the idea of being part of a revolutionary new aviation project is just what you’ve been looking for, then check out our our career page. Maybe you’re just what we’ve been looking for, too…

About eRC-System GmbH

eRC-System GmbH develops a manned electrical vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, having all aspects of certified aerospace products in mind, right from the start. The company is closely cooperating with suppliers, partners and authorities in order to realize sustainable solutions for technical, operational, and infrastructural challenges.

ERC was founded in 2020 by a team of aerospace engineers that already has gained experience in this field for many years. Being pioneers in the development of new technologies that will last beyond a human and that will have impact on the daily lives of millions, requires ERC’s “Passioneering spirit” – the combination of passion and know-how.

Being well-funded, the initial team already grew a full-featured company around the topic that is still prospering fast and highly dynamic.