The Defence Helicopter Flying School, at RAF Shawbury, SARTU (Search and Rescue Training Unit) at RAF Valley and their training service partner, FB Heliservices, are all long time exponents of Virtalis’s Helicopter Crew Reality (HCR) virtual training systems.
WHAT IS HCR?
Conceived as a VR training environment for helicopter rear crew, HCR now provides a realistic, virtual environment in which the whole crew can develop skills in team-wide communication during complex training missions.
Virtalis has created highly realistic, computer-generated, 3D models of the landscapes around both RAF Valley and RAF Shawbury. These allow students and instructors to rehearse actual planned sorties. The instructors add markers to objects and features to create a mission path. Each target has an ideal approach height, but these can be manually changed by the instructors when emergency procedures are being practiced.
As visual cues are so vital to the rear crew when they communicate with the pilot, HCR boasts accurate shadows, a realistic sea and even the movement of wind over grass. Scenario controls allow instructors to alter the weather conditions and the light levels associated with different times of the day and night. HCR also has a unique winch function, allowing crew to practice winch drills, verbal pre-load checks and load jettisoning. Although initially, HCR is always used with an instructor to both guide the students and debrief them on their performance, more advanced students regularly use HCR on their own, something that is only possible in a virtual environment.
“We could train our pilots separately from our rear crew, but conjoint training is more cost effective even though it does takes longer. This is because it fosters the skills of Crew Resource Management (CRM) which can only be achieved when helicopter crews train together. They must be able to communicate as a team, learn the set procedures within the cockpit and cabin, judge distances and be consistently safe. We’ve had only positive feedback for HCR from our students. There is no doubt it has saved flying hours while enhancing training quality, thereby reducing costs.” Group Captain Jock Brown, Commandant of The Defence Helicopter Flying School
THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND HCR
HCR is built around a Virtalis ActiveSpace immersive display system. It has two highly configured Dell PCs using advanced NVIDIA graphics cards, controlling in real time what both the students in their NVIS Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), and the instructors, looking at their monitors, can see. The students’ movements are tracked by a Polhemus Liberty motion tracker with the range extending to the helicopter cabin, including both doors. Virtalis has built a physical mock-up of the cabin interior, so that when the students interact with handles and levers in the virtual world displayed in the HMD, they can move naturally and touch the real physical objects at the same time as they reach for them virtually, further enhancing the sense of presence.
Taking advantage of advances in computer graphics cards, tracking technologies and HMDs, the new HCR delivers greatly improved functionality. The NVIS MH60HMD has the ability to add NVGs (night vision goggles).
The affordability of HCR is partly linked to the fact that the system is run from an off-the-shelf PC equipped with two graphics cards. 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.
THE BENEFITS OF HCR
“Time spent on HCR has proved to be very valuable to our students because they are able to operate in a virtual environment just the way they would in a real helicopter. HCR’s realism is such that by the time they fly training missions, they are already much more advanced than they used to be, so are able to develop more quickly during their time in the air.”
Group Captain Jock Brown, Commandant of The Defence Helicopter Flying School
“HCR is just amazing. We can see at once whether the crew are scanning correctly and using the right techniques. There is a microphone system built into the HMD, so we can talk to the students; though to make communication harder, Virtalis has built in engine noise, just like the real thing.”
Chief Flying Instructor, Commander Mike Greenland
“HCR isn’t as good as the real thing, but it is as near as damn it!”
Crewman Training Officer, Dave Evans