Virtalis’ Helicopter Crew Reality a Hit with UK’s Royal Air Force
Both the Defence Helicopter Flying School, 60 Squadron, and its SARTU (Search and Rescue Training Unit) have been using Virtalis’ Helicopter Crew Reality virtual training system for several months. The feedback from both course instructors and students is resoundingly positive.
Squadron Leader, Sue Brown, who heads up the RAF’s SARTU, commented: “Helicopter Crew Reality helps people to learn to use the right words and do the correct checks at the right time, so that they become a conditioned reflex, enabling everyone on board to get the most out of their actual sorties and reinforcing the lessons learnt when flying. Our course has been revised so that now we teach first, then the students practise in the VR environment, before flying the mission for real. Although the number of core flying hours on the course remains unchanged, the remedial hours have reduced from an average of 15 hours down to 12 and refly rates have dropped considerably.“
Helicopter Crew Reality was developed from an earlier voice-marshalling trainer and provides helicopter crew with a VR training environment in which to develop skills in team-wide communication during complex training missions. The system now boasts the only virtual winching application in the world.
Squadron Leader, Harry Palmer, officer in command of 60 Squadron, explained: “Since the inception of Helicopter Crew Reality, when placed in real helicopters, student rear crew have a better understanding of what they are seeing and doing. The mission play back function is particularly useful, as, during debrief, we can show them where they have been making errors.”
Virtalis has created highly realistic, computer-generated, 3D models of both the landscapes around RAF Valley and RAF Shawbury. This allows students and instructors to rehearse actual planned sorties. In addition, there is also a generic landscape for general practice. The latest graphics cards have allowed accurate shadows and a realistic sea to be incorporated. This level of detail is especially important for the new winching function, as the shadows thrown out by a helicopter and its underslung load provide vital visual cues for the helicopter’s crew. Even the amount of wind can be varied, so students can practise working with the effects of wind on both the helicopter and its underslung load.
Flight Sergeant Phil Davies, Project Officer for Helicopter Crew Reality at RAF Shawbury, said: “It is Windows-based and therefore very user friendly. The kit is available to the students 24 hours a day and they tend to work in pairs and critique each other.”
Virtalis chose a semi-immersive Rockwell Collins Optronics headset, affording some degree of peripheral vision, for this simulator and combined it with a Polhemus Liberty tracking system. The affordability of Helicopter Crew Reality is partly linked to the fact that the system is run from an off-the-shelf PC equipped with two graphics cards. The student aircrew train in a wooden recreation of the doors of a Griffin, with a dual sided version at Shawbury, and are harnessed throughout. Not only do the students see a real-time, accurate view of what they would be seeing from a real helicopter, but the instructor/pilot is provided with a ”God’s Eye View” of the operation as it is taking place via an instructor’s virtual camera.
Master Aircrew (MACR), Mark O’Leary, Rearcrew CFS Agent at SARTU, added: “I would estimate that for the individual modules within our course, which is the longest in the RAF, we have gone from a 20% failure rate to a 5% failure rate since our students began using the Virtalis system. We are working closely with Virtalis to add even greater realism and more function. For example, only 25% of those who apply make it onto our course. We believe that a VR-based assessment test could prove to be a first-rate way of sifting out those least suited to the rearcrew role.”