Flying in VR
During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!
This week: This time, I think about the experiences I made during my first flight using VR technology.
Despite being involved in Virtual Reality (VR) research for several years by now, I rarely came across VR applications that really kept me interested and motivated for a longer time. Often, I explored and tried out my own capabilities inside a particular virtual environment, but quickly stopped using it after having experienced most of the game mechanics. The reason for this is the lack of content that keeps me motivated beyond the initial curiosity.
This changed as a friend invited me to an X Plane 11 VR session. X Plane 11 presents a highly realistic flight simulation. It provides many realistic airplanes and allows users to practice flight procedures. Personally, I spent many hours playing flight simulations so I was immediately excited to give it a try in VR.
The most exciting moment was as I put on the head-mounted display and suddenly found myself inside a virtual Cessna 172. The realistic 3D cockpit gave me the feeling of actually being in a real airplane. All elements and instruments were at their correct position. Also, all control elements could be grabbed and manipulated using the game controllers. In this way, it was possible to use the yoke with one controller while adjusting the throttle with the second one.
This unprecendented flight experience was enhanced by the possibility to freely move my head and to change my perspective. Thus far, I was used to fixed views when playing flight simulations. This not only allowed me to better determine my position in respect to the runway, but also to have an overall improved overview over the instruments. It never was that easy to land a virtual airplane!
As a result, I was completely amazed by this VR flight experience. However, like most other simulations, things start to feel a bit unrealistic when haptic feedback is missing. While this is still ok for flicking switches or turning knobs, it becomes very difficult for using the yoke as well as the throttle. Of course, visual feedback helped me to keep the plane under control, but having no real control device in my hand reduced the overall immersive effect.
As a result of this, X Plane 11 VR might not necessarily allow for a direct training transfer in respect to actually flying an airplane. However, the realistic 3D cockpit models and accurate positions of relevant controls allow for a very effective and realistic training for procedures and check lists.
In the end, despite these limitations, it was the best flight simulation experience I ever made. Also, it was the first time, that I did not get quickly bored after having experienced most of the existing game mechanics. I am looking forward to my next virtual flight hours!