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Redbird Demos Mixed-reality Flight Simulator

Redbird Flight is testing a prototype of its desktop Redbird TD Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) fitted with a software-driven mixed-reality headset that gives users a more realistic and immersive flying experience. Many companies are developing mixed-reality systems, but Redbird’s promise is that traditional simulator manufacturers’ systems will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On display this week at the Redbird exhibit at the EAA AirVenture Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Redbird setup consists of a desktop BATD, a Virgo mixed-reality headset and an image-generation system built by Quantum 3D. Redbird is encouraging visitors to its exhibits to try out the mixed-reality simulator.

Mixed-reality (MR) combines a virtual-reality (VR) view of the outside world with the user’s ability to see and interact with physical hardware. Using the Redbird MR system while wearing a Virgo headset, a pilot can look in any direction and see a 360-degree view of the outside world. But unlike a VR headset, where users have to manipulate a simulator’s buttons and controls with some sort of cursor-control device, MR headsets have cameras on the outside that look at the user.

These cameras show the user a part of the physical world, in this case, the instrument panel of a simulated Cessna 172, so that the user can see his own hand moving a yoke, turning a knob, or pushing a button. The result is a more realistic VR experience and a better positive transfer to the training environment.

Running an MR system requires a lot of computing power, and the Redbird system uses two powerful graphics processing units, one for each eye. The visuals the user sees in the outside world come not only from the underlying simulator software (Redbird uses Prepar3d, but Quantum3D also works with X-Plane), but Quantum3D’s Mantis module-based image-generation software platform.

Mantis is already being used for some military applications, and Virgin Galactic has used a Quantum3D system to train pilots for its subsidiary flights, according to Quantum3D CEO Murat Kos. An air ambulance operator in Germany uses Quantum3D MR for its Airbus H145 helicopter pilot training and also has an application for firefighting flight operations.

The Mantis system delivers high-resolution graphics at 60 frames per second. Some of Mantis’ capabilities include replicating various weather phenomena, ocean effects, rotor wash, global terrain, over 30,000 airports, and night-vision goggles and infrared sensors. “We have a bunch of Level-D airports and weather,” Koss said.

During a demonstration of the MR system, I flew the Cessna 172 in a simulated traffic pattern at San Francisco International Airport. Being able to look in any direction and see the plane as if I were sitting in it is a big improvement over a regular desktop simulator. Yet at the same time, I can look directly at the instrument panel and see my hands pushing the yoke and throttle and the G1000 avionics buttons and twisting the knobs.

The visuals kept pace as I quickly moved my head from side to side with no lag. The instrument panel was fairly sharp, although there were parts of the display that were slightly blurry.

Regardless, I was able to fly the simulation immersed in the outside world view and easily judge when to turn from downwind to the base leg by looking back over my shoulder, which is difficult to do on a regular desktop. The only thing the simulator lacked was any control feel, although Redbird could easily add the MR system to one of its motion-based simulators and add feedback to the yoke.

Redbird hopes to receive FAA approval to use the MR simulator as a BATD, allowing credit for some instrument flying and currency training. Aviation University and high school aviation programs are “most excited about it,” said Josh Harnagel, Redbird VP of marketing.

Redbird is also developing an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) that replicates the Air Force T-1A Jayhawk (BeachJet). The Air Force has ordered 25 Redbird AATDs and will use them for jet transition training, replacing the T-1As once they are decommissioned. AATD will have Redbird’s current visual display, but Harnagel Dr They can be equipped with MR systems If the Air Force wants to add MR capabilities.

“The new proof-of-concept device is a promising step forward in improving the human-computer interface of simulated flight,” said Redbird CEO Todd Willinger. “In our years of research and development of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality systems, we have seen that a more immersive visual environment is designed to inhibit a pilot’s ability to properly interact with the physical elements required in certified training devices. This device allows pilots to see and adjust everything inside and outside the flight deck—both virtual and physical—demonstrating that it can be a viable solution for professional flight training.”

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