VR Flight Simulators: Could They Fully Replace Traditional Pilot Training?
For over 8 decades, pilots have been training with flight simulators. Multiple technological breakthroughs have been achieved during that time. In 2019. Virtual Reality has become a new and professional form of pilot training, which are allowing for incredible and exciting new outcomes for the industry of aviation.
It’s been almost a century that every pilot flying private jets to Stealth Bombers in the Air Force have been training using flight simulators. Now, in what has turned out to be a huge discovery in technology, the way flight students learn to fly has been adopted. Teaching pilots with VR systems has benefited professional flying schools with cheaper lessons and has helped the United States Government by lowering costs for the Air Force defence budget. Aeronautics mechanics can also be trained with them. Let’s look at some examples of how VR flight simulators will benefit the science of aviation over time.
How modern flight simulators work
Flight simulators are normally made when front (cockpits) of an airplane are cut off, and it is then fastened to a hexapod shaped platform to allow six degrees of movement of the connected section of the plane. To give pilots a view of a runway or landscape, video displays get placed inside.
Training pilots are given a chance to work with life-like situations in a cockpit with the use of flight simulators. The use of simulators can save a lot of time and money by sparing fuel consumption, avoiding the usual upkeep and mechanics of constant use, and without harming a single pilot or passenger, simulations of hazardous situations and conditions as well as failures of the system can be input to challenge the pilot.
The foci of movement, communicating, air traffic control and visuals are taught with the use of an advanced form of technology called the flight simulator. An example of what one can do is exposing training pilots to exercises in spatial orientation by setting the FS to create the same feeling of air friction pushing against the fuselage. A pilot is afforded the value of a satellite view of each of the objects in an airport they need to see, using a 180-degree field.
Originally, FS had four levels that were given grades A to D, and D was the best standard. Recently, the four levels were increased to seven levels internationally, with D being Type 7, In both training initially (changing to different types of airplane) and continuing education training to commercial airliners (regular training is required for every commercial pilot, generally each six months in order to keep being allowed passenger flights in CAT airplanes on their itinerary), Type 7/Level D is now the standard.
Why change what has always worked?
Flight simulators can be very expensive, take up a lot of room, and are very heavy, requiring the cost of heavy machinery to move them. As an example. The full flight Type 7 simulator costs close to $12 million, and that doesn’t include the operating costs. When an old model airplane needs to be replaced with a more modern version, the expenses go even higher. Therefore, presently, training pilots eats up the budget for the military and is usually too much for an aspiring pilot to afford.
Will VR training for pilots become a reality?
In recent years, there was much division throughout the industry of avionics, with many questioning virtual reality’s effectiveness in the training of pilots. There have been those who have argued that age-tested dependency of the current flight simulator cannot be replaced by anything on the market. There were concerns that situations such as grabbing an oxygen mask when smoke fills the cockpit or learning to understand the slight vibrations in a pilot’s seat while flying a plane would be lost in translation. Although there was no evidence in recent years that physical simulators were any less capable than the virtual reality option. However, VR is being operated along with tutorials in Air Force training operations and some private flying instruction schools.
The United States Air Force uses a program called PTN which blends multiple technologies, including advanced biometrics, data analytics, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence in order to train pilots more quickly, cheaper and in a more focused learning situation. The very first PTN program began August 2018 and covered 20 weeks with 20 pilots under its wing. Just four months later, 13 of them successfully graduated. It normally is a year-long program until trained pilots graduate.
What’s coming in the future of pilot training using VR?
Now becoming a mainstream item to own in the world of video gaming, virtual reality was only a fantasy a little over a decade ago. Yet, by 2016, there were over 230 companies creating products in the field of virtual reality, and they weren’t small businesses with the likes of Samsung, Google, Sony, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft leading the way, Then came Facebook’s varifocal prototype display called the Half Dome in 2018. This use of virtual reality allowed for unlimited distances in focusing from near to far vision, offering a viewing field of 140-degrees without increasing the consumer’s device weight or shape.
The current use of VR technology is in environments of multi-projections and headsets that make the user feel like they are right in the virtual situation. Now, new technological advancements in virtual reality have allowed for pilots in training to feel vibrations in addition to important sensations of a real flight through something called the haptic system. Virtual advancements are seeing great results in PTSD and military training.
Flight schools are also taking advantage of the new technology instead of old video tutorials. One of the first aviation companies to use VR was out of Australia. The Chief instructor of pilots used a film production crew to make a new virtual training experience that instituted the use of a mobile virtual reality headset and a smartphone in order to teach his students flying basics. Now, you can sign up for a pilot course with VR certification, and more are to follow.
Take a look at some of the most superior VR headsets available
Headsets are currently tethered or mobile. You can connect a cellphone to a mobile headset which makes any smartphone a wireless virtual reality device. Google Daydream and Samsung Gear are a couple of the cheapest headsets for your mobile phone. Tethered headsets are really neat with their ability to track your position accurately. A VR headset that is tethered is going to usually allow for a deeper and more real flight experience as opposed to the lesser ability of a smartphone’s power to process in comparison to laptops or desktops.
A user should have these equipment pieces to begin:
- A virtual reality flight computer
- A top of the line VR headset
- Rudder pedals
- VR flight software
- An Airplane joystick or control yolk
The haptic technology is not quite available for public use, but the most recent changes are adapting the use of mechanical actuators, which are devices that touch different parts of your body, often are most used, being your fingertips and hands, allowing someone to feel the sensation of virtual reality. When this was created to be used in flight training it gave VR pilots the ability to assimilate with the feel of the dials and switches, they would use in reality.
Flight software that will immerse you
The software in this program is so real it is extremely popular. The X Plane 11 has new features, with an upgrade to a user interface with high definition, establishing a relatively close feel in real and high-quality detail to an aircraft’s parts.
This has been considered among the top-flight simulators for the PC, with an incredibly real perspective. You will forget you are playing a game, when you face the true challenge of stepping into a very well detailed cockpit with a realistic looking instrument panel to take a virtual flight.
Aerofly2 is an incredible flight software VR program with 3D graphics you’ve never experienced before, and true to form dynamics of flying for up and coming pilots. The realism includes a detailed cockpit, and amazing aerobatic physics over a beautiful layout of the southwest USA.
Making VR manageable for the aeronautics industry and pilots
In 2020, virtual reality as a part of aviation is no longer being ignored. Although flight simulations with VR may be different from the actual experience of flying a huge plane in the sky, but for a required large new generation who dream of an aviation career can no longer count on the rising cost of even the highest rated simulators.