The office of the Naval Aviation Training Systems is developing new virtual reality trainers for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopter and T-45 Goshawk jet trainer, said office lead Chris Foster during a mixed reality panel at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2017.
This is part of a larger push by the U.S. Navy to build deployable flight simulators that decrease actual flight hours and save money, without losing the quality of training. It’s a new reality that’s possible thanks to advances in other industries.
"The wonderful thing about VR right now is the entertainment industry is driving this technology further and faster," said Courtney McNamara, Advanced Gaming Interactive Learning Environment (AGILE) team lead at Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD).
"The resolutions are getting much better and higher, the latency is getting much lower, so we're able to see less sim sickness when you're wearing the goggles. Because industry is pushing these limits, the government is not having to invest a lot of its own money into the technology to see it move further and faster."
These trainers will be deployable, unlike the current dome-based flight simulators because of the small nature of VR headsets. There are still several roadblocks that represent major challenges moving forward, however, such as cockpit legibility while wearing the goggles and motion tracking on hands for accurate, one-to-one movements within the aircraft. Eventually, these trainers can be used to train in specific scenarios without risking the pilots or aircrafts.
The T-57 training helicopter system is directed towards new trainees ahead of low-level flights, easing them into an intimidating stage of training through a desktop program first.
"What we know is that low-level flights for students who are beginning their Navy training in TH-57s are quite overwhelming," Foster said. "It's very difficult to develop the sight picture that you need and to do it in a very quick way when things move much faster on those first few flights, so there's very little learning that's actually taking place.”
The T-45 system will have two part-task trainers, like the T-57, utilizing VR to render the world and augmented reality to create an accurate, interactable cockpit, ultimately cutting down on the high life cycle cost of the T-45's current dome simulators.
"When you're looking through the goggles you're going to be able to see outside the cockpit, but we also need there to be a virtual representation of the physical cockpit that the trainee would see and they should then be able to interact accurately and reliably with the physical cockpit but relying on its virtual representation," Foster said.
Virtual Reality has a role outside the airplane as well, giving new life to training across the Navy.
In a video demonstration, Roger McPherson from the Naval Seas Systems command showed how a VR simulation allowed a student to practice disassembling a diesel engine governor. Foster also talked about how VR can address spatial disorientation mishaps, where training to combat these are largely classroom and video based right now.
"There are a variety of ways we might approach AR/VR/MR in trying to address known and future training capability gaps," Foster said. "From our perspective, it's important that we pursue all of those different avenues and make sure that as we're gathering feedback from the fleet to make sure we're hitting the nail on the head on the things we need to."