I believe that with the new breed of low latency VR displays such as the Oculus Rift, as well as associated control peripherals, the days of the large simulator are numbered. Crews can train together from different locations and each can be on their own moving chair, much cheaper to actuate than a full-hydraulics cockpit.

Will VR based solutions replace simulators with physical displays for FAA certification purposes?

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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be primarily opinion based. As someone who has an Oculus DK2 and P3D as well as DCS, in my personal experience, the technology is still miles away to be used anywhere near actual flight training. Still a lot of fun though. $\endgroup$
    – JustSid
    Dec 17, 2015 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ @JustSid I disagree, the question itself does pose an opinion, but the answer itself will not be opinion based. There are very real, easily explained reasons why this concept will not work. (as Ralph J has shown us) $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Dec 17, 2015 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


Based on the variety of tasks that are performed in a simulator that VR would have great trouble accurately replicating, I think the answer is likely, no. There IS a role for "simulators" that are more accurately referred to as "procedures trainers" in that they are non-motion, but this has nothing to do with VR, as those don't use all that much visual display anyway. Networked wargaming is a great capability that VR can add to military simulations, but that's an addition to, not a replacement of, traditional simulators.

In a full-motion simulator, there are several things about the simulator that contribute to aircrew training, and the visuals are one important part. The replication of the entire cockpit, including every switch, lever, display, keypad, and so on is another. When I go to the sim and practice emergency procedures, each control reacts exactly as it does in the aircraft: where I look and where I reach to put my eyes and then my hand on each control, how hard I need to pull to get the desired effect, and so on. And where I'm reaching with my sitting height and arm's reach is ever so slightly different than another pilot does. We both get the same control, but it's farther below a tall pilot's eye line than a short pilot's. (Slightly over-simplified, but the basic point remains.)

We also do a fair amount of manipulation of the Flight Management Computer while in the simulator, which involves typing. Not to say that typing isn't possible in VR, but it's not exactly the same as typing on a physical keyboard. And we're using the same physical checklists and iPad EFB's that we do in the aircraft; not sure how well VR can mimic those.

So when you consider all the parts & pieces that make up the modern simulator & its considerable cost, the physical replication of the cockpit probably isn't something you're going to be able to remove in favor of VR.

For basic flying training, some of these sorts of factors are less important, as the basic flying skills you learn on one trainer transfer quite well to another trainer, even with a different cockpit layout. But for basic flying training, not only the visual but also the vestibular and "seat of the pants" elements are more important. While VR goggles like Occulus Rift are probably cheaper than several large display panels for providing the out-the-window visuals, these days high quality visual displays aren't the most expensive part of most simulators, and VR can't simulate the seat-of-the-pants sensation of accelerating, stopping, turbulence, and the like without some sort of motion actuators -- hydraulic or electric.

Now, for networked purposes (i.e. wargaming where Air Force elements from multiple bases across the country or globe can participate without the time & expense of getting to, say, Nellis AFB for a Red Flag), VR has amazing potential. But to the extent that each pilot still has his own realistic cockpit & switches, what's driving the big gains is more the network than the VR... you can network an existing visual display with about the same hardware as you'd network the Rift devices. To the extent that the "reality" of the precise cockpit can be sacrificed, then the VR probably makes for fabulous gains -- units practicing their tactics, rather than precise switchology. Sometimes that's a perfectly acceptable tradeoff; other times, not so much.

But until the tactile feedback of VR is good enough that I can use it to practice putting my hand on a lever, pulling it out of its detent in "this" direction with "this much" force required for "this much" travel, then pushing it down "this far" with "this much" force until it hits the stop "here," I really doubt that VR will replace the high-dollar flight simulators used in military and airline training.

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    $\begingroup$ A very important part of sim training is CRM and the human interactions cannot be replicated using VR (at least, not in the immediate future). $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Dec 17, 2015 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon, most of the human interaction is talking and transferring voice is manageable. Good tactile feedback is the larger problem. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Dec 17, 2015 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec I agree that tactile feedback is the larger problem, but CRM cannot be used, practised and tested through voice alone. In addition to needing to see what the other guy does, there are numerous subconscious cues that are not present in voice only. It's the reason why using a phone when driving is so much more dangerous than talking to someone in the car. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Dec 17, 2015 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ A contributing factor to this landing with nose gear up was "the dissimilar pull force and pull length set on the flight simulator that was used for flight crew training of alternate landing gear extension procedures". Tactile feedback matters. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2015 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer and fully agree, with following additions: 1. Cost of the visual system is 15% of total cost of the simulator. 2. There are projects for including tactile feedback into the VR goggles: you press a button that feels right, but see the image in the goggles when you look at it. Still, VR lacks peripheral vision, amd imtroduces a weighty reminder that we're not in the air. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    May 22, 2017 at 16:25

Well, if you ask me in the current era of VR, my answer would be no. But, It could be used as a pre-trainer for the real simulator to feel familiar.

Additionally, in the coming years, we could incorporate the tactile feedback using haptic suits which was the major concern raised by @Ralph J. You can even add how hard you have to pull a lever in that particular suit. In that era of VRs XRs, MRs hardware simulators could be alternative to the real simulator training for those people who do not have access to a trainer nearby or in a Covid-like situation ( the suits can be delivered to the concerned person on a lease basis).

VR can enable online training. Heck, we could make a Metaverse Aviation academy where you have to walk to the aircraft! But that's a distant story and Meta and other startups are working on it.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a difference between haptic feedback that can fake 'touched a thing' and the body position sense of proprioception for 'pulled lever back and to the stop'. A suit that can provide the force feedback strong enough to overcome your motion pulling/pushing something is going to also be strong enough to badly injure you when it fails. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2022 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger, Nothing in an aircraft cockpit requires a level of actuation force that if applied to a human body would cause injury. It would be easy enough to use actuators with safe levels of resistance. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2022 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall In the 737, when you push the throttles all the way to either stop, they STOP with a very definite "clank" and your hand knows with certainty that this is as far as they go. For a procedures trainer, dragging a throttle icon to the full aft position to practice "Throttle (affected engine) - Confirm - Idle" is probably fine, but it wouldn't feel even slightly like flying the actual airplane. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jul 21, 2022 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ Or, another example: the fire handles. They unlock when illuminated, and can then be pulled up and then rotated. If the aren't unlocked (by an actual fire, fire test, or an awkward hard to reach unlock button under each one), you can pull until you break the panel, but the handle isn't coming up the inch (or less) it moves when unlocked. To realistically simulate that small but important detail, the "haptic feedback" would have to be able to resist a lot of force applied by the pilot without allowing any vertical movement at all. That would take a really strong feedback mechanism. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jul 21, 2022 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall the issue is leverage, if you want to have that throttle 'stop' at arms length with a proper 'in detent' feel you need your arm mech to be pretty solid, which means heavy with power assist. This is going to be 'power loader from alien' not 'sleek body suit'. As a more extreme example imagine the mechanics of a suit that allows you to adjust your virtual seat height/position. At some point you always have to decide 'is this easier to do with the real thing' (or just accept the realism hit). $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2022 at 8:41

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