FlightSafety Mixes Reality in New Simulator

by Matt Thurber

Image credit: DISTI

An interesting development that might have a profound effect on the training simulation industry is underway at FlightSafety International’s Visual Systems division in St. Louis, Missouri. Some lucky visitors to the Heli-Expo show earlier this year in Anaheim, California, were able to get a private demo of the new technology, which FlightSafety calls a “mixed-reality” flight simulator.

The new simulator takes advantage of the many years of development of FlightSafety’s Vital image generator and visual display, marrying the most recent version with virtual reality headwear and hardware controls to create a mixed-reality simulator.

Virtual reality or VR—in the form of eyewear that makes the user feel immersed in the simulation—is nothing new in flight simulators, especially in consumer types. But a problem with these setups is that there is no good way for users to experience moving the simulated aircraft’s controls within the VR environment. There are controls that a pilot can use to simulate pushing the aircraft’s buttons and turning its knobs, but there is no feedback mechanism for feeling the action of pressing and turning. And such VR setups don’t allow the user to look outside the VR environment to manipulate physical controls.

FlightSafety’s mixed-reality simulator solves that problem by combining special VR gear with a hardware platform that replicates the cockpit controls and enables the realistic feel of actuating avionics and other controls. The VR headset is fitted with external cameras, and this allows FlightSafety engineers to program what the pilot sees in virtual reality and what real-world items are passed through, such as avionics.