How Air Zermatt is Setting New Standards for Helicopter Pilot Training with Varjo
Air Zermatt, in partnership with Loft Dynamics and Varjo, is transforming helicopter pilot training using an EASA-qualified virtual reality simulator, enabling trainees to fly the simulator like a real helicopter and have the virtual training time officially credited to their flight training.
Key benefits of VR for helicopter pilot training:
- Enhanced realism: High-fidelity visuals create a more immersive and authentic training environment compared to traditional simulators, especially close to the ground.
- Natural environment: Sun effects, with shadows, outside the helicopter, to assess the height and provide a realistic representation in the cockpit. Night scenes, including cockpit lighting, also enable scenario-based training in dark environments.
- Cost-effective: VR-based training expenses are often significantly reduced compared to full-flight simulators or real aircrafts
- Increased safety: Pilots can practice emergency procedures and challenging scenarios in a controlled and safe environment without risking damage to real aircraft or potential harm to themselves
- 24/7 accessibility: VR simulators can be used day and night, regardless of weather conditions, allowing for more flexible scheduling of training sessions
From Alpine Origins to Global Impact
Established in 1968 in the heart of the Swiss Alps, Air Zermatt has built a reputation over the past 55 years as a pioneering force in high Alpine helicopter rescue operations. Born from the innovative solutions of former pilots, the company has developed groundbreaking techniques now utilized by numerous rescue organizations worldwide.
Air Zermatt not only excels in their core mission of saving lives, but also actively imparts their experience and knowledge to the next generation of pilots with their Air Zermatt Training Center. Offering high-level courses that prepare professionals and amateurs for demanding rescues under extreme conditions, the center boasts around 20 expert instructors who train approximately 1,000 course participants from around the world each year.
Overcoming Training Limitations
To maintain safety in the skies, it is crucial for pilots to receive high-quality training all throughout the year with training systems that are both accessible and readily available to accommodate the needs of all trainees. Training in a real aircraft, while valuable for providing hands-on experience, comes with certain limitations. Limited availability of aircraft and instructors can restrict the number of pilots being trained and the frequency of their training sessions. Additionally, unfavorable weather conditions, such as low visibility and strong winds, can hinder or delay training, making it crucial to have alternative training methods during such periods.
In the past, large dome simulators were employed by training providers to tackle some of these limitations, but the visual quality has not quite reached the level of realism required for effective training. “Everything below 30 knots was unrealistic, which made it difficult to train for situations that required lower speeds,” says Gerold Biner, CEO and Pilot at Air Zermatt. Addressing the challenge, Air Zermatt partnered with Loft Dynamics to employ their state-of-the-art H125 VR Training Device utilizing the Varjo Aero headset, with the aim to deliver a game-changing solution to helicopter flight simulation.
A Leap Forward in Helicopter Flight Training
In spring of 2022, Air Zermatt opened their simulator training center at the heliport in Zermatt featuring a VR-based professional training device for the Airbus H125, qualified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and employed by Air Zermatt for comprehensive pilot training and assessment. This cutting-edge simulator featuring the Varjo Aero is developed and produced by Loft Dynamics, a leading manufacturer of virtual reality helicopter training devices.
Training in an immersive environment not only helps to avoid negative training but also presents a cost-effective alternative to training in a real aircraft, completely replacing outdated Full Flight Simulator technologies. The VR-based simulator is 10 times smaller and roughly 20 times less expensive than traditional full-motion simulators. What’s more, it cuts air time training in a real aircraft by up to 60%.
Immersive technology provides a more realistic training experience, particularly for helicopter flights operating close to the ground and below 30 knots. The solution’s advanced features, including true-to-life haptics and visuals, allow pilots to simulate malfunctions and train for challenging emergency scenarios in a safe but realistic setting. “This technology allows pilots to do all the exercises related to Operator Proficiency Checks and License Proficiency Checks below 30 knots, which usually is a big safety issue,” Biner explains. “This device prevents any damage to the aircraft or pilot and provides a huge gain in safety.”
According to Biner, pilots were initially skeptical about the new technology, but quickly realized its benefits. Several pilots from all over the world, including those experienced in emergency procedures, have expressed positive feedback regarding the training. “They now want to come in every six months to use it because they can do much more inside the simulator than outside on a real helicopter,” says Biner. “They are happy that they had this training and emphasized its high training value.”
Pioneering EASA-qualified VR Simulators
Loft Dynamics, the pioneer behind the virtual reality-based training solution employed by Air Zermatt, is the first company to have their helicopter training solution officially qualified by EASA. This qualification is essential for pilots to receive credit for their training done with the simulator. Combined with Varjo’s highest-resolution headsets, Loft Dynamics’ simulators were able to successfully meet the hundreds of requirements to obtain the EASA qualification. The EASA-qualification marks a pivotal milestone for the entire VR/XR industry, proving that immersive simulations can bring tangible benefits to pilot training.
The advantages are clear: The VR-based simulator enables pilots to efficiently and cost-effectively complete their annual proficiency checks, directly at or close to their homebase, which usually saves 2-3 working days compared to a check in a dome-based Full Flight Simulator at a training center. With EASA-qualified virtual reality simulators, pilots can not only receive credit for their virtual training time but also benefit from the high training value and flexibility of the immersive solution. This aligns seamlessly with Air Zermatt’s mission.
“Our goal is to share our experiences and bring more safety to this industry. The combination of the Varjo headset, the avatar design, and the cockpit with all the switches makes it the best simulator I’ve ever flown,” says Biner.