Does Virtual Reality training improve memory retention of pilot flows?

Author: Jose Rangel Florez

Rangel Florez, Jose, 2021 Does Virtual Reality training improve memory retention of pilot flows?, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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The increasing usage Virtual Reality (VR) has seen commercial releases of head mounted display (HMD), and a drive from computer game engines, such as Unity and Unreal Engine, to providing continuous support and tools to develop serious games (SG) and VR environments. A Virtual Reality Flight Training Experience (VRFTE) has been created to train pilots’ flows using a SG concept. The cost of accurate simulators is high, making them inaccessible to many trainee pilots, and training is achieved using Paper Tiger (a poster of the cockpit to perform their training).

Learning and retention can be improved using serious videogames that include feedback, decision making, and physical fidelity, compared to traditional training. This research proposes VRFTE, a simulation with the benefits of a serious video game, can improve memory retention. VRFTE implements physical fidelity using VR technology to immerse the user into an aircraft Cessna 172 T41 Mescalero emulating the real size of the plane and cockpit controls. VRFTE uses the sensors of the HMD Oculus Quest 2 to implement hand tracking interaction and provides interactive visual and audio feedback when users are performing pilots flows.

The study has divided the participant sample into two separate groups, Paper Tiger Training (the control group) and VFRTE Training (the experiment group) to compare them. Five simple flows, that pilots perform on the ground, have been extracted from the manufacturer’s manual of a Cessna 172 T41 Mescalero and are implemented for both training groups. A flow is a specific task that involves the pilots pulling levers or pressing buttons for a particular purpose.

Fifteen people participated in the study, eight for VRFTE Training and seven for Paper Tiger Training. Each group had two sessions with one week between them, one for training the other for assessment. As participants were not expected to have any experience using and aircraft before, participants had an introductory video explaining the purpose of the study and the training to be performed. The training for Paper Tiger sessions used a poster that identified the cockpit controls with letters that were correlated to the flying instruments in the actual cockpit. In other words, participants were able to match the letters from the manufactures manuals and the cockpit poster to execute the flows.

Whereas, the VRFTE module provide the same training experience but was presented in a VR environment. For both sessions, an evaluation of the correctness and completeness of the established flows was used to determine memory retention.


A memory retention score was created to assess how well the participants performed in the evaluation. The memory retention score was based on one flow called “Engine Failure During Take-Off Roll.” Six steps in a specific sequence needed to be performed to execute the flow correctly. Moreover, the cockpit controls had multiple states. Therefore, six steps and six states were calculated for the memory retention score. Memory retention was assessed one week after the training,

Results have demonstrated that participants that engage in VRFTE perform better than poster training. Therefore, this might be an alternative type of training for students that want to become pilots. Also, expanding this research could be a great opportunity for the aviation industry to consider implementing VR training as an alternative tool compared to simulators.

Keywords: Serious Games, Virtual Reality, Memory Retention, Pilots Flows, Education, Procedural Memory.

Subject: Computer Science thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2021
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Brett Wilkinson