Rating Corner | Parachute Flight Instruction with Virtual Reality
The Rating Corner | Nov 13, 2023
Rating Corner | Parachute Flight Instruction with Virtual Reality

Ronald Hughan

Dedicated skydiving instructors have a continuous mission to enhance safety, refine skills and instill confidence in their students. Addressing landing-related incidents is a significant part of this, as USPA statistics show that 46% of non-fatal incidents in 2022 were due to poor landings. Simulator training, particularly virtual reality technology, has the potential to improve parachute flight instruction and enhance students’ canopy flight fundamentals, including navigation, final approach and landing proficiency. 

Virtual reality simulation for skydiving draws inspiration from airline pilot training, where flight simulators have proven invaluable in improving safety. Whether in-person (3D, with the student wearing VR goggles) or online (2D, no goggles required), VR training allows student canopy pilots to navigate landing patterns in both ideal and challenging scenarios, such as crosswind conditions. This allows students to gain experience and practice decision making in a safe and controlled environment. Performing VR practice sessions under supervision (where instructors provide advice) encourages student canopy pilots to adopt best practices, accept responsibility for their safety and learn to choose the best options. Instructors can also stay silent during sessions for testing purposes.

Instructors can structure lessons using the familiar brief-jump-debrief format, with increasing levels of challenge (using tools built into the VR program) as the student progresses. They can then evaluate the key learning objectives—assessing wind conditions, altitude awareness, recognizing landmarks, avoiding air and ground turbulence, maintaining situational awareness—for each VR jump and record it in the student's logbook.

During the VR sessions, instructors can encourage their students to ask themselves pertinent questions, such as:

  • Do I have a good canopy?
  • Are there other canopies I need to avoid? (recurring every 30 seconds)
  • Did I remember to look before turning? (recurring throughout descent)
  • Where is my landing area?
  • What is this altitude's wind speed and direction? (recurring throughout descent)
  • Can I get back to the landing area? Where could I land right now if I had to?
  • How do I get to my holding area?
  • How and where am I joining the traffic pattern?
  • Did I assess my landing point on the final approach to avoid obstacles?
  • Did I start flaring at the appropriate altitude?
  • If I started flaring too early, did I hold my toggles in position (not let up)?
  • Was my vertical landing speed more than 10 feet per second?

The skydiving community can harness VR technology to help prevent landing injuries and ensure that students grasp canopy control fundamentals. Pioneering instructors may want to consider using this tool to reduce canopy-related incidents.

Ronald Hughan | D-21826, AFF Instructor
Founder, SkydiVR virtual reality skydiving flight simulator

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