VRM Switzerland receives EASA’s first approval for a VR flight simulator

AvatarBy Vertical Mag | April 26, 2021

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 45 seconds.

VRM Switzerland has announced certification of its Robinson R22 Virtual Reality Training Device by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) — the first such approval by an aviation authority for a VR flight simulation training device (FSTD).

VRM Switzerland R22 VR simulator
VRM Switzerland’s Virtual Reality Training Device incorporates a motion platform allowing pilots to feel fine changes in attitude and touchdown on the ground. VRM Switzerland Photo

The device is certified to the level of Flight Navigation Procedures Trainer (FNPT) II, allowing users to credit up to five hours of training toward an EASA private pilot license, and up to 10 or 20 hours for a commercial pilot license, depending on the training concept. Up to five hours can be credited for night flight training.

The certification is a major milestone for VRM Switzerland, whose launch customer Mountainflyers has already been using the R22 simulator to improve training outcomes for its students in a cost-effective way.

“Pilots should receive realistic training on simulators. This allows helicopter operators and flight schools to fly more efficiently and safely,” stated Fabi Riesen, VRM Switzerland’s CEO.

“Thanks to the qualification from EASA, we can offer training with the possibility of crediting flight hours,” he continued. “To make this possible, a lot of preparatory work was necessary. The suitability of the VR concept was verified through a training evaluation program together with EASA involving pilots of various nationalities from industry and aviation authorities, including helicopter flight instructors and test pilots.”

VRM Switzerland’s training device incorporates the high-resolution Varjo VR-3 head mounted display and pose tracking with a VR haptic cockpit on a six-degrees-of-freedom motion platform. Riesen said the combination provides “the highest possible visual fidelity, allowing pilots to be fully immersed,” while also enabling the training of maneuvers such as autorotations, hovering, and slope landings, where exact height perception and a wide field of view are required.

Varjo chief commercial officer Seppo Aaltonen said the company was “honored” to be part of the first EASA-qualified, VR-based FSTD.

“This is a truly pivotal moment for the entire VR industry, proving that immersive simulations can bring very tangible benefits to pilot training,” Aaltonen stated in a press release. “Together with VRM Switzerland, we look forward to providing and scaling cost-effective, photorealistic virtual simulation training to pilots worldwide.”

David Solar, head of General Aviation and VTOL at EASA, pointed out that VR simulation is one of the pillars of the agency’s Rotorcraft Safety Roadmap, launched in late 2018 to improve small helicopter safety.

“This technology was identified as a real enabler and potential game changer for helicopter training,” Solar stated. “The VRM Switzerland R22 virtual reality simulator qualification is a further step towards EASA and industry objectives to improve overall rotorcraft safety by 50 percent by 2028. It shows that when we are all working together, we can overcome all challenges towards a common objective. I’d like to congratulate VRM Switzerland team for the outstanding work, as well as EASA teams for their commitment to support this qualification, which so far as I’m aware is a first in the world.”

VRM Switzerland also expects near-term EASA certification of its FSTD for the Airbus H125, including an option for helicopter external sling load operations (HESLO) training. Norwegian helicopter operator Helitrans has already reserved two of 15 available slots for the H125 training device in 2021, in addition to confirmed options for the Robinson R44, Leonardo AW09, and Airbus H135 and H145 versions as they become available.

“Coming from the airline industry and having seen the effect of safety focused and structured simulator training, I am extremely thrilled to be part of the paradigm shift the innovative and sophisticated training concept VRM Switzerland is now launching, through high resolution 3D visual representation combined with full flight equivalent motion, enabling the rotorcraft segment to further build a strong training and safety culture, reducing incident and accident rates towards airline standards,” stated Helitrans chief operating officer Ole Christian Melhus.

“With the realistic 3D VRM Switzerland visual and flight modulations, operators will also be able to train additional pilots to the highest HESLO levels, two-pilot crew concepts including CRM, and customize other special operations to their needs which would be challenging to achieve in the conventional full flight simulator environment,” Melhus said. “We are aligning our strategy based on this investment and are now planning to establish a new training center, open to all Nordic companies and customers.”

VRM Switzerland said it will additionally be able to operate its products worldwide through its own flight simulation training device organization, simplifying the organizational burden for other flight schools and operators. The company also aims to obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification for the devices.

Claude Vuichard, president of the Vuichard Recovery Aviation Safety Foundation and a flight instructor with Mountainflyers, conducted a pilot evaluation of VRM Switzerland’s R22 training device exclusively for Vertical. His video report on the device can be viewed on YouTube here, and a follow-up interview here.

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