World’s first Virtual Reality Flight Training Device qualified for training

VRM Switzerland collaborated with Airbus Helicopters to create a full replica cockpit and a flight model with flight dynamics highly representative of the real aircraft.

The VRM Switzerland Airbus Helicopters H125 system incorporates a motion platform of their own design, integrated with a VR visual system producing a high resolution image at very low latency, reducing the risk of motion sickness. The first example of this system has been qualified at EASA Level 3 and delivered to Helitrans Norway, who operate a fleet of H125s across the country.

Also incorporated into the VR FTD system is a method of interpreting the physical position of the pilot, known as pose recognition. This allows the position of the pilot’s limbs and hands to be accurately detected and modelled in the virtual space. Together with an accurate physical cockpit, this means that all of the helicopter controls and systems can be physically manipulated by the pilot, with the results accurately depicted in the virtual reality cockpit scene. Also included is a virtual kneeboard which the pilot can use to refer to checklists and other documents while remaining in virtual reality.

EASA Level 3 is the highest level of qualification possible for a Flight Training Device (FTD) under that regulator. FTDs at Level 3 are required to reproduce most flight characteristics and systems operation at the same degree of fidelity as Level C or D Full Flight Simulators, with only some exceptions such as control feedback accuracy, field of view and other minor technical elements. This broadly compares with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Level 7 qualification.

The system is so novel, that new methods of certification and qualification needed to be developed by EASA specifically for this FTD.

“As these devices are utilising new technologies not foreseen in existing regulatory requirements, special conditions for the approval had to be developed, ensuring an equivalent level of safety,” said Francesco Gaetani, Acting Head of Air Crew & Medical Department at EASA.

This level of qualification now allows pilots to log training time in the FTD. This will both reduce training costs, but also critically provide a system which can easily replicate emergency conditions that are unsafe or impossible to practice in the real aircraft. Until now this was only possible in much more expensive Full Flight Simulator (FFS) systems.

“With this type of simulator, you can put the pilot in operational situations which would be very risky in real flight but which bring a significant added value to training,” said Gilles Bruniaux, Head of Product Safety at Airbus Helicopters. “It is true for emergency procedures but also for scenarios like flying in weather conditions that gradually deteriorate.”

VRM Switzerland and Airbus Helicopters signed a commercial partnership agreement during the 2022 Heli Expo in Dallas, Texas, to both commercialise and develop the simulator system for future helicopter types.

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