Why Redbird’s Mixed-Reality Simulator Could Be a Game Changer

Redbird Flight announced at Oshkosh AirVenture 2022 a, well, not exactly a “product,” but a technology it’s developing to merge a real-world flight sim and a virtual reality headset that allows the pilot to see 360 ​​degrees.” to see”. It’s an amalgam of the hardware-based world and at least two others created to bring to life the experience of being in a sim, even a fixed-motion sim.

The ghost, a Madison Avenue publicity fool once said, is a terrible thing to waste. When it comes to flight training, and this may sound obvious, the mind is a great thing to take advantage of, and Redbird Flight’s latest futuristic flight sim device puts the mind to work without the gray matter of the simpilot works up a sweat.

I recently passed by Redbird’s exhibition space in Oshkosh and met up with an old friend and Redbird VP of marketing Josh Harnagel to check out Redbird’s big news, which in case you’re new to aviation, has been one of the most innovative companies for 15 years. years in our little neck of the woods. And at most Oshkosh meetings, the company has some innovation to report. These announcements have drawn the curtain on such products as Virtual Instructors (GIFT); sim-based scenario training (a development for which I have at least partial credit) used as a primary resource at EAA’s Pilot Proficiency Center and a thousand other places that offer flight training; pilot performance monitoring, the core technology behind the company’s new Redbird Pro; and more.

Like a few of those other technologies, mixed reality — there’s no product name for it yet — tries not to create a new product within an existing paradigm, but to create an entirely new paradigm.

But what is mixed reality? Imagine virtual reality, in which the user (read: pilot for our purposes) interacts with a fully digitally fabricated world. Everything you see and hear – they work on smell, touch and, who knows, maybe taste – was invented for you. It’s impossible, if you really think about it, not to let your mind wander to possible applications, almost all of which are actively being developed by someone somewhere.

Then imagine – okay, you don’t have to imagine – ordinary reality, you know, that world out there made up of atoms and molecules that we know and love, simply as ‘reality’. I won’t go down any philosophical rabbit hole here, except to say, if you start thinking about That very difficult, it quickly becomes clear that reality is not as physical as we all instinctively know it is. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume it’s as real as real can be.

The problem with virtual reality comes when there is some kind of operator that relies on physical controls to do what the virtual reality is trying to emulate. In the case of what we do, we are talking about pilots and flight controls/electronics.

The Holy Grail would be to create a virtual reality world that lets in nothing but the controls and controls (the physical controls, in this case the controls of a flight sim and the pilot) as they create an outside world, the aircraft, and the outside world, including airports and terrain and weather, so that the pilot can fly using physical controls as they see a world around them rendered through virtual reality.

That’s what this is.

If you know anything about computer technology, and just about every pilot knows that, you might think that something like that would require massive computing power and a really great headset. And you are right. Even five years ago, a rig like this would have been impossible. For starters, the computers needed for processing were prohibitively expensive. Plus, the headset tech, Harnegel said, wasn’t available at every cost.

That rig is made up of several critical components, including the Varjo XR-3 headset; the Quantum3D image generation system; the flight simulator software, here by Redbird; and the simulator, where a Redbird TD2 desktop non-motion sim with the excellent alloy rudder pedals/brakes. All this works together to provide a clear picture of the outside world in spectacular fidelity and detail through the headset, the inside of the aircraft and the flight controls in front of you and at your feet. It essentially creates a mask through which those controls can be seen in real life, as if you’re looking at them like you do every day. So if you look down to make sure you’re adjusting the prop control and not the fuel mixture, you see your real hand and the actual physical controls on the simulator. Again, the computing power required to mask those real-world things as the pilot moves his head back and forth and up and down is enormous.

But would it work? To find out, I sat down by the simulator and put on the headset, which instantly calibrated my eyes – it creates the virtual world based on what you’re looking at, and instantly changes the view as you move your eyes to the runway in front of you, scan for traffic or to see how the kids are doing in the back – okay, no kids there yet! Josh, who I looked at but couldn’t see because he wasn’t part of the simulation, pointed out that as I looked around the pillar of the plane, the landscape behind it matched the movement of my head, just like in real life . It’s nothing short of stunning.

Flying the plane – it was a generic model, felt like a Skyhawk – was very much like one of Redbird’s sim without the virtual reality component. That is, it’s quite realistic, although the simulated plane is more sensitive than the real one, so at first I over-control… and later I over-control on landing. It was a extreme satisfying flying experience. When I turned my head, I saw the interior of the plane – it used to be a Skyhawk! – and beyond, the outside world, including dynamic weather and terrain.

Leaving San Francisco without talking to the tower (still waiting for my letter from the FSDO about that omission) I climbed straight up to cartridge height or thereabouts, then made some turns and then some steep inclines.

The point here is not just to fool your mind, but also to fool the rest of your body. There is no movement involved. It’s a desktop sim, which you can buy from Redbird by the way, but my body definitely felt movement. I “felt” the G’s as I pulled through the 60-degree turn, and I “felt” the negative G’s as I pushed and unloaded those G’s as I returned to straight and level flight. No G’s were drawn, of course, other than the normal weight of myself, but my mind, knowing full well what the maneuver feels like, filled in the blanks and basically provided the missing movement component. On landing, I even “felt” the landing bump and deceleration, neither of which was present anywhere but in my brain.

Redbird's Mixed Reality Simulator

While I was at the Redbird booth, two different people approached Josh and asked if they would buy such a rig. Josh’s response was that it would cost about $80,000, but, he explained, Redbird seriously expects it to all be priced at the consumer level at some point.

It is also in talks with the FAA about certifying such a sim, which will certainly be a lengthy process, although Redbird may have some confidence. I hope so. Because full-motion sims are prohibitively expensive for consumers, this technology would provide a pilot with 90% of the full-motion experience for, ultimately, pennies on the dollar.

The technology would not be limited to consumer applications. It can be used as a realistic (and thus effective) supplemental or introductory device for organizations providing training in full-motion rigs over $10 million.

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