Priority 1 Air Rescue is a European and U.S. based training company that focuses on training military and civilian flight crews. While at SOFINS 2017 the company introduced their multi-configurable virtual reality gunner/hoist station. The station is essentially a cage that can be produced in different versions (up to 20 different helicopters) to simulate the interior feel of a chopper while a gunner is on their weapon station out the side fuselage. There is an actual (or demilled) machine gun system set up whether that be a M240, or an M134 Minigun connected to a sensor that allows the shooter to manipulate it and fire with their hands from the virtual reality headset. I assume these machine guns are using CO2 compressors or similar reality enhancing equipment to simulate recoil. Everything on the headset is recorded so that after action reviews can be made possible. It appears that different mission configurations can be uploaded to the headset and can be altered to fit whatever the commander or qualification course needs. The CEO mentioned that although the platform is intended for aerial rotary platforms, it can be modified for rigid inflatable boats, ground vehicles, and even C130s (most likely he means the AC130 Gunship).
Virtual reality with ground vehicles has existed for a number of years, with the Marine Corps and the Army each using similar systems of their own. One of the biggest detractors from these is that usually, they involve a ground vehicle in a room where there is a screen surrounding the vehicle that displays the virtual environment. This means that you can’t completely get rid of the notion that you aren’t in a room during the training event. However, you can easily replicate actions in that vehicle while on patrol or a mission. With the virtual reality equipment, it appears to be the opposite. You can forget you are in a room, but when it comes to dealing with the actual equipment and vehicle, the student is at a loss because it only exists as in a computer game.
With this particular system, I can see it as an excellent way for crew chiefs and aircrew to get time on their weapon systems before they go out for a live fire qualification or as pre-deployment training. More importantly, the ability to practice different scenarios (Shoot-No Shoot, Positive Identification, LZ locations, etc…) will possibly become invaluable as practicing these same scenarios would be costly and time-consuming while in an actual training flight. Either way, I think we’ll see much more usage of this virtual reality when it comes to realistic training aids. Whether or not it becomes a trend, we’ll have to find out through training experience and actual adoption.