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Most of the recent excitement around Virtual Reality (VR) has been generated in the gaming industry. Gaming, however, is just the beginning. The potential of VR is stretching far beyond entertainment into the flight simulation industry.
The evolution of VR technology and its increased usage in flight simulators is ushering in a whole new era of professional pilot training. Private flight schools are already using VR as an alternative to video tutorials, and recently, an Australian chief pilot instructor worked with a production company to design a VR experience that teaches student pilots the basics of flying.
Full flight simulators that use VR are almost indistinguishable from the real world, while educational flight simulator games and training programs on mobile devices are also developing rapidly. Tomorrow’s pilots can fly a Cessna 172, get to grips with the Airbus A320 and master a Boeing 747 all through their VR headsets or smartphones.
Pilot instruction systems making use of VR have the potential not only to increase general aviation safety, but also to make professional flight training more affordable and therefore more accessible.
With the development of more advanced technologies that enable authentic, realistic aviation learning experiences, the sky’s the limit. Let’s have a look at some of the most noteworthy educational flight simulator games and software created to assist pilots in training.
When it comes to flight simulator games, Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World) 2.5 ranks highly. Designed with the most accurate flight models, cockpit systems, sensors, targeting systems and sounds available, DSC World is considered one of the best Virtual Reality flight simulator games available.
However, DCS World is far more than a video game. This digital battlefield PC software not only delivers on realism but offers one of the most powerful mission planners ever designed, full network play, as well as a wide range of weapon systems, air defense systems, military aircraft, tanks, and ships. With more than 84 AI aircraft, 50 air defense systems, 105 ground vehicles and trains, 156 AI weapons systems and more, users can plan and play a wide range of highly sophisticated missions.
The creators’ ambition is to take users on an educational journey from novice pilot all the way to an advanced and sophisticated operator of complex weapon systems. Aspiring pilots can learn how to fly virtual aircraft such as the A-10C Warthog, UH-1H Huey, F-86F Sabre and Spitfire from a highly detailed cockpit and instrument panel.
Some of the other features include:
- 20 Fully-equipped operational airbases
- Multiplayer mode allowing for multi-crew missions
- Mouse interactive 6 degrees of freedom cockpits for most aircraft
The popularity of the X-Plane 11 flight simulator is due mainly to its realism. Excellent graphics, a smooth frame rate, and realistic weather and lighting put X-Plane 11 among the top flight simulators available. X-Plane 11 offers a large range of flight models – from the single-engine, fixed-wing Cessna 172SP to the four-engine Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft.
The latest free update, X-Plane 11.30 with a high-definition user interface and 3D cockpits, now features a new ATC voice system, and a new particle system for effects and Dubai landmarks. Some general aviation planes also feature a simulated Garmin 1000, while the program includes 3D scenery for more than 3,000 airports around the world, offering pilots in training a realistic, authentic learning experience. Additional features include tutorials on flight basics and navigation, as well as new and improved cockpit controls that are easier to set.
X-Plane 11 supports the following VR devices:
- Oculus Rift
- HTC Vive
- WMR virtual reality headsets
Aerofly FS 2
Aerofly FS 2 is a next-generation flight simulator available for Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS that features one of the best and fastest 3D graphics available. The software’s stunning level of detail and sophisticated flight dynamics offer an immersive, lifelike flight experience. Crisp, detailed cockpits, wonderful aerobatic physics and photorealistic scenery with global elevation data and aerial images place Aerofly FS 2 among the top flight simulator games out there.
Aspiring pilots can explore the entire southwestern USA, including over 300 airports, 3D buildings and bridges, and highly detailed cities, flying aircraft such as the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, Cessna 172, Airbus A320 or the F-15E fighter jet.
Key features include:
- Customizable flight conditions – adjust visibility, cumulus and cirrus cloud density, and height, or wind thermals and turbulence.
- Replay function – review takeoffs or landings.
- Advanced navigation – realistic autopilot with fully functional interfaces and all real-world modes, graphical flight planner, worldwide instrument navigation and optional co-pilot to stabilize attitude and maintain speed, heading and altitude.
Aerofly FS 2 supports all main Virtual Reality systems, including Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, as well as a range of compatible hardware such as the Track IR head tracking input device, the Tobii EyeX gaming eye tracker, joysticks, throttle units, rudder pedals and more.
VR flight simulations might not be able to replace actual flight experience, but they can open up the possibilities of a career in aviation for a whole new generation of pilots – many for whom the cost of training in high-end simulators is a barrier to entry.