Implementing Virtual Reality in a Flight Training Organization

Virtual reality (VR) is transforming flight training, offering an immersive and effective learning experience. This document guides flight training organizations in successfully implementing VR in training programs. VR bridges theory and practice, replicating realistic cockpit environments and facilitating hands-on learning. This concise guide covers key considerations such as hardware selection, content sourcing, curriculum integration, instructor training, student orientation, and evaluation. By embracing VR, flight training organizations can enhance training quality, engage students, and prepare pilots for the demands of the aviation industry. Let’s explore the potential of VR together!

Identify needs and objectives

Identify the learning objectives and specific training areas where VR can be effectively utilized. We suggest cockpit procedures, emergency scenarios and cockpit familiarization.

VR should be implemented where it makes sense. One of the biggest mistakes to avoid is choosing the wrong technology for a job. It is important not to force VR on every aspect of training as it may create undesirable and demotivating situations for students and instructors. VR is a perfect tool for specific tasks, such as procedure training and spatial awareness, but not a great tool for working with spreadsheets.

Examples from operators already employing VR in their training programs include:

  • Using VR as a preparation tool for simulator events
  • Using VR for mockup training instead of flat panel trainers/cockpit posters
  • Making VR headsets available during systems classes to correlate systems knowledge with cockpit procedures
  • Memory items training with VR headsets at sim centers as preparation for simulator sessions
  • Captain upgrades – learning captain procedures and getting familiar with sitting in the left-hand seat
  • VR as a tool for retraining
  • Using VR as an assessment tool when a simulator is not strictly necessary

Hardware acquisition

The available VR hardware platforms generally fall in two categories: tethered and standalone. Tethered headsets are generally used for high-performance applications like flight simulation. Tethered headsets need a computer to run with the extra cost associated with this. Standalone headsets are all-in-one devices suitable for more lightweight applications, such as VRflow, VRpilot’s cockpit procedure trainer. Standalone headsets are generally lower priced and more portable than tethered systems.

VRpilot’s recommendations for VR hardware is listed in the table below.

Pico 4 Enterprise

  • 2160 x 2160 pixels per eye
  • 104° field of view (horizontally)
  • 586 gr/1.29 lbs

Meta Quest Pro

  • 1800 x 1920 pixels per eye
  • 106° field of view (horizontally)
  • 722 gr/1.59 lbs

VRpilot offers retailing of all these brands of headsets.

It is recommended to brand the hardware with logos, etc. of the organization. VRpilot offers branding of headsets (and software) to reflect the organization’s design and brand.

Software sourcing

VRpilot develops operator and aircraft specific training scenarios based on each customer’s needs. Our interactive procedure training platform, VRflow, offers engaging scenarios covering normal procedures, emergency procedures, memory items, and cockpit familiarization. VRflow is aircraft and operator specific, meaning that VRpilot tailors each installation of VRflow to the flight training organization’s aircraft types and procedures.

VRflow is the most used interactive procedure training platform for VR in the world, and has been continuously refined with feedback from our airline customers to maximize the user experience and training gain.

Integrate VR into the training curriculum

Determine how and when to incorporate VR training sessions into the existing flight training program. Identify specific lessons or training stages where VR can enhance the learning experience.

A good place to start is using VR as a supplementary training aid in mockup/flat panel trainer sessions, eventually replacing these older devices. VR may also be used as a training or demo tool during systems lessons. If the organization is willing to let student use the headsets on their own time, experience has shown a positive training outcome and higher motivation among students – especially during the initial and intermediate training phases.

Ideally, appoint an instructor to lead the effort as a VR ambassador. This individual is ideally technologically interested and savvy with a passion for new technology. An individual like this is a great ambassador for advocating for VR.

Establish infrastructure

Locate the VR devices in a designated room with facilities for charging and cleaning. Instructions for use should also be readily available in this room. If required, establish a check-in/check-out sheet for students wishing to borrow headsets.

Enroll headsets in a mobile device management (MDM) system. VRpilot recommends the supplier ManageXR, whose system enables remote updates, pre-approving Wi-Fi networks, usage analytics, locating headsets, user experience configuration, and much more.

Make sure that the headsets have access to a WiFi network to enable remote updates and access to VRflow’s multi-user capability. A separate WiFi network or an open guest network may be the best option in large organizations.

Control headset usage by having a “check in/check out” sheet like the one below or establish a digital way of doing this, e.g., integrated in an existing resource planning software or calendar.

Make sure to have proper documentation available near the headsets. A Quick Start Guide in poster format is available from VRpilot, designed to be located near the headsets. A more comprehensive User Guide is also available from VRpilot.

Introduce the organization to VR

Getting an organization-wide acceptance of new technologies requires passionate “ambassadors” who advocate the use of VR. Generating a healthy amount of “hype” internally will help generate interest. The introduction of VR can be announced at town hall meetings, in internal newsletters, or other appropriate media.

Train instructors

It is important to get instructors on board with VR from the beginning. They will be the ambassadors for VR in the organization. Make sure instructors get a good understanding of how to use the devices and the software, including troubleshooting. Make the instructors feel like they have ownership of the technology and have them come up with their own ideas on how to incorporate VR in their training sessions. A separate instructor guide is available from VRpilot, covering key points for instructors who will use VR in their classes.

Provide instructors with tools to share VR content, i.e., casting VR content to a monitor. Most VR headsets are capable of different types of casting. VRflow comes with an instructor operating station (IOS) app that enables observers to view a VR training session from different perspectives on a PC or an iPad.

Provide student orientation and guidance

Conduct thorough orientation sessions for students, explaining the benefits and functionalities of VR training. Provide guidance on how to navigate the VR environment, interact with controls, and maximize the learning experience. Specific topics to cover can include (in this order):

  • Powering up the device

  • Headset and controller buttons: instruct the students in how to use the controllers and their buttons. It is a lot easier to get familiar with the controllers before donning the headset itself. Make sure to use the controller strings

  • Make sure to have space around each student to avoid hitting nearby objects while in VR

  • Make sure that the lenses are clean (see below)

  • Ergonomics – donning and adjusting the device. Special attention should be given to ensuring that the students fit and adjust the headset correctly. This includes correct placement on the user’s face, IPD adjustment (unless automatic), and strap adjustment. Not taking the time to adjust the headset properly can lead to a negative training experience, which can be difficult to revert. User with spectacles should, if possible, wear their spectacles under the VR headset.

  • Software navigation: menus, starting apps, selecting procedures, available training settings, exiting scenarios.

  • Device care and charging: how to charge the device, replace/charge controller batteries, cleaning face mask and lenses.

Curiously, real life implementation cases have shown no clear correlation between age and the ability/will to adopt VR as a training device. It is therefore not granted that younger students will have a stronger affinity with VR than older students.

Monitor and evaluate student progress

Use VR training sessions as an opportunity to assess student performance, identify areas for improvement, and track progress over time. This can be done through performance evaluations, debriefings, or assessments within the VR software. VRpilot’s VRflow platform offers user data gathering.

Continuously update and refine VR content

Regularly update and expand the VR training content based on feedback from instructors and students. Incorporate new, scenarios, and evolving industry best practices to keep the training relevant and engaging.

Foster a supportive learning environment

Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among students through multi-user or shared VR experiences. Create opportunities for students to discuss their VR training experiences, exchange insights, and learn from each other. VRflow is multi-user capable across different physical locations.

Measure the effectiveness of VR training

Conduct assessments or surveys to evaluate the impact of VR training on student performance, engagement, and overall learning outcomes. Use this feedback to refine and improve the VR training program.

Increase hardware utilization

Let’s face it: just like the iPad was yet another device to acquire, VR headsets are additional devices that a flight training organization need to invest in. It is therefore a good idea to maximize the utilization of these devices. Suggestions:

  • Share headsets across departments (flight ops, maintenance, cabin crew, etc.)

  • Share headsets across bases (if applicable)

  • Record 360-degree videos of procedures, maneuvers, tricky approaches, etc. and make these available on all headsets

  • Allow students, instructors and pilots to take headsets home overnight