NAVAIR looks to VR for enhanced flight-simulation training

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUNXET, Md. The U. S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is opting to use virtual reality (VR) technology to build flight simulation trainers that are deployable, improve fidelity, make better use of actual training flights, and more cost-effective.

The Naval Aviation Training Systems program office at the moment is developing new trainers for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopter, and T-45 Goshawk jet trainer, stated Chris Foster, the program office's lead for aviation warfare training development. The F/A-18 project calls for two networked deployable mission rehearsal trainers that use VR "to look at whether the fidelity of the cues provided are sufficient to support the training tasks that we need to be able to train," Foster said. In addition, said Foster, the trainer will be movable, with a much smaller footprint, than the platform's current dome-based flight simulators.

The program office, says Foster, believes that putting students through a few VR familiarization flights on a desktop trainer first will improve their performance when they actually take their first low-level flights in an actual TH-57, Foster said. Moreover, T-45 systems will also have two part task trainers (PTTs) that use VR as well as augmented-reality visual system technology to render a trainer that both improves fidelity and cuts down on the high life cycle cost of the T-45's current dome simulators.

Spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness remain the main cause in many flight mishaps, said Foster, yet pilot and crew training to avoid and deal with such issues has changed little over the years, remaining classroom-based and reliant on video. "What we need is the capability to quickly and efficiently recreate mishaps based on information that we can pull from mishap reports and other data sources, and use that data to update training and provide a more immersive training environment for students," he added. To that end, VR is regarded as a way to provide that higher level of immersion, Foster said.