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  • Dyfrig Gibbs

A vision of the future


In an attempt to shoe horn myself back into a state of flow, focus and productivity I've buried my head in the notes for both Operational Procedures and Human Performance. Raided Youtube for all the latest "worlds scariest landings" and "pilot life" videos. Binge watched City in the sky - the BBC's latest documentary on aviation. This was mostly done whilst washing the dishes, I'm traditionally a radio man, but Bella has taught me how to precariously position the ipad above the sink - it's great, it'll even add jeopardy and tension to Countryfile! And my daily visit to my sanctuary, my meditation spot, my mini man cave.....(the throne) has been spent clutching my mobile, feverishly flicking between media streams devouring all the latest news in the world of aviation.

The reason I have done these things is not just because the Avgeek hashtag on twitter is nearly as addictive as flying itself, it's because that period of not paying my training and blog much attention brought me out of my immersed state and fogged my vision of the future. I feel it's incredibly important to be able to really visualise yourself in the position of having accomplished your goal. When you're proactively working day on day towards that destination, each small hurdle, each milestone, each piece of information, knowledge or learning seems to make that picture clearer and feel closer to realisation, which in tern spurs you on.

I also think the ebb and flow of drive and productivity is a natural phenomenon, essential maybe to allow you to let other aspects of life enter the fray, or to recuperate and refresh. It is always a mental challenge though, picking up the baton exactly where you left it, but I find it helps if you recognise this process and know the tools you need to do the job efficiently. Luckily I've discovered a new tool! A tool that instantly immerses you in a way that totally surprised me. A porthole to the future and in my case to the flight deck! The tool is Virtual Reality and the Mentour360 app.

Honestly, If I was my mate i'd be ripping the proverbial out of me for how geeky i've become with Virtual Reality. Really though i'm happy to mock myself for it because i've always been a bit of a techno-phobe. Growing up in a tipi limited my time interacting with a digital interface - we had no electricity let alone a computer! I did learn about electricity though, and circuits, AC and DC and how to connect batteries in series and parallel. I learned all this because even in those medieval days we had a 12V black and white TV. A TV we powered with a spare van battery that we'd connect to the alternator to be charged by day. In the evening Dad or I would get the ole 10mm spanner out, fish out the big 12V leisure battery and hook it up to the kind of TV you'll now only find in a museum. Growing up I never had a PC or a games console, I dropped I.T in school at 14 - I just wasn't into it. It is inherent in me to be sceptical about technologies that purport to be the next greatest breakthrough. VR has been steadily gaining momentum for the last few years, I've known this and been typically cynical. Until a few months ago.

For the last year I have been an avid subscriber of the Mentour Pilot youtube channel. A channel created by Petter, a training captain, simulator instructor and training manager for a well known airline. The channel is crammed full of invaluable advice for pilots in training and those yet to embark on the journey, whilst at the same time it is a candid insight into the life of an airline pilot. Mentour Pilot was created by Petter through a genuine desire to help people like me who are passionate about aviation and are forging their own path to the flight deck. In April though, he took it a step further.

Since 9/11 it has become very difficult to get a taste of the cockpit environment, a wall of security looks for all the world like a veil of secrecy. Pre that date, if you were fascinated by flight and planes and figured you'd like to investigate it, you could express your interest to a member of cabin crew and they'd ask the pilots if you could pay them a visit. Being an affable bunch they'd often oblige and you could get a real taster of what the working environment was like for pilots of commercial airliners. Nowadays you could embark on your training without a great deal of insight into the procedures and dynamics that exist in an operational multi-crew jet airliner cockpit. Unless you plug yourself into a Virtual reality headset.

The standard of VR today is such that the experience is genuinely immersing and evocative - far more than watching something in 3D. The first thing I experienced in virtual reality was big wave surfing. I am stupid enough to have braved a real 6ft swell off the sunshine coast in Queensland. I was way out of my depth but it is an incredible experience to watch a wall of water over twice your height build up behind you, then accelerate you down it....... and then land on top of you - numerous times. That experience is so incredibly rich you could never hope to replicate it, but when I stood in my garden with a VR headset on watching a similar wave build up behind me then rocket me down it's face I was astounded by how real it felt, how easily it transported me right back there - it is testament to the richness of VR and thus it's likelihood to become obscenely popular and even be of genuine use as an educational tool.

So far more than the things I listed at the top of this post, my Mentour360 app and VR headset have been abused this last week. The app contains 4 VR experiences featuring different procedures a flight crew will inevitably face. It's awesome to have such a rich insight into the execution of these complex manoeuvres, but mostly it is fantastic to be able to sit in your home environment look around you and absorb a real 737 cockpit and visualise yourself in command of it. The app was designed to be informative and entertaining but I believe that it has genuine potential and use in the training industry. The importance of mental preparation and visualisation is not under estimated in any field that requires accurate execution of closed skills and procedures under pressure. Research has found that the mind does not weight physical practice of a procedure as more valuable for retention than mental rehearsal of that same procedure. One of my modern day idols, the Canadian astronaut Cmdr Hadfield, talks in his book (an Astronauts guide to life on Earth) about the importance he placed on mental rehearsal pre flight test. Integrated students have a flying partner that they "jump seat" with so that every lesson in command is backed up by one monitoring. The advantage being development in the vital skill of monitoring but also consolidation of the skills learnt when in command.

I believe this is where Virtual Reality and Mentour360 have a genuine and valuable place in the aviation industry - as a tool to aid in the process of mental rehearsal and visualisation of real SOP's that will be examined in flight tests of all levels. For now though, it is an awesome way to immerse myself in my vision of the future.

#VR #visualisation

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