Sitting on a motion platform with a full-size Robinson R22 panel and flight controls, students put on a headset and are transformed into a digital world with a 360-degree view of the helicopter and the training environment. Unlike gaming systems that usually require gestures or for the user to hold controllers, in the VRM simulator the student makes normal and natural motions, which the software projects as an avatar in the headset. The student isn’t required to wear sensors or make specific gestures in order to change items on the panel or operate the controls.
Instructors sit outside the motion platform in a three-screen setup that shows the aircraft environment, and critically, where the pilot is looking. VRM Switzerland CEO Fabi Riesen calls this a “value add” that gives the instructor a greater ability to monitor the student’s progress.
The company has also incorporated an advanced control feedback system. In a traditional training environment, helicopter students start with a small margin for error, and especially in Robinsons, the instructor’s hands are often still on the controls, even when the student is supposed to be flying. It can be difficult for the student to know when he or she is controlling the aircraft. In the VRM device, the computer has limits that give the student more control, without making it so difficult for new pilots as to not be effective training. As the student gains proficiency, the system can be tuned down to better approximate the helicopter.
Although the initial simulator is for a Robinson R22, the company has plans for more, including the popular Airbus H125. With the full visual field, it’s even possible to train external sling loads realistically in the simulator.
European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification enables users to log five hours toward a private pilot certificate, and up to 20 hours for a commercial pilot certificate. Riesen said “there are a lot of things already going on” regarding future plans with FAA approvals.
Pricing on the simulator varies, but Riesen said in all cases training time in the VRM will be less than in the aircraft. The company set that as a requirement early on, knowing that any safety enhancing device must be a good value.