Comparison Between Virtual Reality and Physical Flight Simulators for Cockpit Familiarization
2021, Auer, Stefan, Gerken, Jens, Reiterer, Harald, Jetter, Hans-Christian
Airlines and flying schools use high-end physical flight simulators (PFS) to reduce costs and risks of pilot training. However, such PFS with full-scale cockpits have very high acquisition and operation costs. In contrast, recent consumer-grade and off-the-shelf soft- and hardware can be used to create increasingly realistic virtual reality flight simulators (VRFS) that could potentially serve as cost-efficient and flexible alternatives. We present a user study with 11 participants to determine whether consumer-grade VRFS can supplement or even replace a PFS during cockpit familiarization training (CFT). We compared a full-scale Boeing 737-800NG PFS with a VRFS based on off-the-shelf flight simulator software combined with a consumer-grade head-mounted display and either finger tracking or a handheld controller as input device. Participants performed instrument reading tasks and check procedures from the aircraft’s operating manual. We did not observe statistically significant differences in successful instrument reading tasks, error rates and task completion between PFS and VRFS during CFT. However, we found that VRFS’ Mental Demand, Physical Demand, Effort, task completion times, and levels of simulator sickness were significantly higher and exceeded acceptable levels. We conclude that future consumer-grade VRFS will need to improve soft- and hard- ware for interacting with simulated switches and reduce simulator sickness before they can serve as PFS alternatives for CFT.