Mix it up – AOPA

I completed a basic trip width check, then the trim wheel as I arrived for a minor adjustment, then to the flap arm. My eyes traveled farther down, where the co-pilot’s seat should be – but the scene was disrupted by the bright red carpet of the Redbird Flight Show at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Virtual reality blends with real-world visual cues in a desktop mixed reality flight training device for proof-of-concept red bird On display at her booth all week long at AirVenture. The system uses a Redbird TD desktop simulation base, a Varjo XR-3 virtual reality headset, software and an image-generating computer from simulation and training company Quantum3D to create the immersive simulation experience that customers in STEM education desire.

“They’ve honestly been chasing us for years to simulate virtual reality,” said Josh Harnagel, Vice President of Marketing at Redbird. The technology wasn’t there yet for a realistic and cost-effective virtual reality system that worked in a flight training environment, but Harnagel said it’s getting dramatically better. Proof of concept is Redbird’s foray into the virtual reality space, and its mixed reality technology aims to solve one of the critical hurdles of virtual reality.

“Pure VR, you don’t see your hands,” explained Murat Kos, CEO of Quantum3D. “Pilots don’t really like that.”

Cameras, sensors, and lidar allow the system to determine what a user sees of the virtual world and what you see of the real world, and I found the transition surprisingly smooth looking from the virtual horizon of floating buildings all the way to the painting and my hand. The system reduces pixel density for rapid head movements, which causes a bit of dizziness — one of the many challenges Quantum3D and Redbird face as they explore Mixed Reality integration. Redbird also studies the human factors of a training environment where the coach is outside the simulation. Can students learn too if they can’t look their teacher in the eye?

It may not matter if the model does not fit into a traditional flight training environment, because Redbird customers are increasingly becoming STEM education programs. In the past year, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions have become a large part of the company’s market, Harnagel said, growing to 60 or 70 percent of new sales. While flight schools are usually small businesses, their fates are tied to the vagaries of the economy, as Harnagel said, “Perkins money doesn’t care about the economy.” Additionally, news coverage of the shortage of professional pilots has piqued the interest of teachers looking to shed light on students’ career paths.

Also at AirVenture, Redbird announced that the USAF will use Redbird simulators for mixed reality training, with 25 advanced flight training machines ordered to provide type-specific training for the twin-engine Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk. It will solve the setup, using a separate simulation engine with mixed reality technology from Science Applications International Corp. It replaces the fleet of T-1A aircraft used for jet training.

Redbird also announced that Tom Haines, former AOPA editor-in-chief and senior vice president of media and communications, has joined the company’s board of directors.

“I have always been an advocate of modernizing flight training,” Haines said. “I look forward to working with Redbird to help bring new technologies to flight schools and solo pilots to make general aviation safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable.”

The author is trying a virtual reality simulation experience at a Redbird flight simulation event.  Photography by David Tollis.