Virtual reality hardware and software have crossed a threshold where their use in supporting helicopter training and currency/recency provides an amazing experience. In this episode we break down what you can expect and what you will need to get started.
Hopefully you will never look at computer helicopter flight simulators the same after listening to this podcast episode. Sérgio Costa is the editor and founder of Helisimmer.com which focuses on the fairly niche market of – not surprisingly – PC based helicopter flight simulation. On the site you can read reviews of a number of different flight sim software solutions and add-ons from a helicopter perspective.
Until recently I have spent very little attention or interest on PC helicopter flight sims. Mainly due to poor experiences in the past with flight models and how they flew but also just due to access to the real thing. I did use a home flight simulator during instrument flight training on fixed wing and rotary which certainly helped (the Cessna 172 matches a Blackhawk close enough in performance for instrument approaches).
Then 3 months ago I discovered where virtual reality(VR) technology had got to. My perception of PC flight simulator software for helicopter simulation has changed forever. Given the high cost of operating a helicopter, the cost of traditional fixed simulators and the increasing adoption of VR by consumers – my call is that all student helicopter pilots will be using VR during their training faster than most people will think.
It is amazing!!!
Sérgio and I chat about our experiences of virtual reality, unpack the technology that makes it up and go into the hardware and software you will need to install effectively a full sized Huey in your living room just by putting on a VR headset. Then when you are done with the Huey you can swap it for a Bell 206, R22, R44, B412, H125….. 🙂
When researching headsets you will come across a number of types. The ones that we are talking about today are PC (Windows 10) powered rather than standalone headsets such as those that use a phone or Playstation. The power of modern PC graphics cards are required to provide the level of experience to make this viable. You will also find reference to ‘Mixed Reality’ headsets. Mixed Reality is the term that microsoft has created to group their virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies. AR references digital information overlayed on the outside world that you are looking at in much the same way that a HUD works.
The ‘best’ headset is subjective. If you are tempted to purchase in 2017/early 2018 then look at the HTC Vive (what Sérgio and I have), Oculus Rift which has been out for a while and is a proven product and the Samsung Odyssey. Each has different pros and cons – price, hand tracking resolution, screen brightness, field of view, resolution – but should all be suitable for flight sim needs and are the pick of the current offerings. A high resolution headset recently raised $4 million on Kickstarter but hasn’t been manufactured yet. Its final performance and successful delivery is still to be proven.
If you do not currently have a high performance gaming PC then you will unfortunately also need to factor that in your costs. And then the helicopter controls you need to purchase… Look it is not cheap but compared with the next best offerings in physical based simulators with multiple screens VR is a compelling business case.
A good demonstration of the difference that head tracking provided by VR headsets makes to a helicopter flight sim experience
A pilot providing a detailed comparison of performance and flight model of DCS:Huey vs the real thing.
X-Plane and Robinson R66 model – more feedback and an opinion on the virtual reality experience of helicopter flight.
360 degree video example – wearing a VR headset allows you to look around inside this video tracked to the direction you are looking. This doesn’t have the 3D effect of software such as the flight sims but is still very immersive – putting you in the scene. Powerful tool for training or for capturing lessons and description of helicopter manoeuvres.
Sérgio demoing helicopter flight simulator (not virtual reality) and controls at a recent expo.
Do you have a question about setup, hardware, software, training uses for virtual reality for helicopter simulation? Have feedback for others on how you found it or tips? Be part of the conversation by leaving a comment below.