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Evaluating Flight Performance and Eye Movement Patterns Using Virtual Reality Flight Simulator

Published: May 19th, 2023



1Psychology Department, School of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, 2Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, 3National Key Laboratory of Human Factors Engineering, the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, 4Department of Military Medical Psychology, Air Force Medical University

A new virtual reality flight simulator was built, which enables efficient and low-cost evaluation of flight performance and eye movement patterns. It also provides a high-potential research tool for ergonomics and other research.

Efficient and economical performance evaluation of pilots has become critical to the aviation industry. With the development of virtual reality (VR) and the combination of eye-tracking technology, solutions to meet these needs are becoming a reality. Previous studies have explored VR-based flight simulators, focusing mainly on technology validation and flight training. The current study developed a new VR flight simulator to evaluate pilots' flight performance based on eye movement and flight indicators in a 3D immersive scene. During the experiment, 46 participants were recruited: 23 professional pilots and 23 college students without flight experience. The experiment results showed significant differences in flight performance between participants with and without flight experience, the former being higher than the latter. In contrast, those with flight experience showed more structured and efficient eye-movement patterns. These results of the differentiation of flight performance demonstrate the validity of the current VR flight simulator as a flight performance assessment method. The different eye-movement patterns with flight experience provide the basis for future flight selection. However, this VR-based flight simulator has shortcomings like motion feedback compared to traditional flight simulators. This flight simulator platform is highly flexible except for the apparent low cost. It can meet the diverse needs of researchers (e.g., measuring situation awareness, VR sickness, and workload by adding relevant scales).

The European Aviation Safety Agency (2012) categorizes flight simulators as training facilities, flight and navigation program trainers, flight training equipment, and complete flight simulators1. To date, a range of flight simulators is available for training, from low-level tabletop systems to highly complicated motion-based full flight simulators2. The traditional simulator includes a flight dynamics model, a system simulation, a hardware cockpit, an external visualization, and an optional motion simulation3.

These traditional flight simulators have some advantages a....

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All methods described here have been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Tsinghua University, and informed consent was obtained from all participants. After completion, all participants were paid $12 (or a gift of equal value).

1. Participant selection

  1. Recruit participants according to a prior study of power analysis using G*Power software35 (see Table of Materials) to ensure the participant number meets the .......

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For the current experiment, 23 experts with flight experience and 23 novices without flight experience were chosen. The participants were between 25 and 58 years of age (experts: M = 32.52 years, SD = 7.28 years; novices: M = 29.57 years, SD = 5.74 years). The gender of all participants was male. All the novices were recruited from Tsinghua University (students or faculty), and all the experts were from China Eastern Airlines.

Eye movement

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The current study assessed if participants with flight experience had better flight performance than those without flight experience in a VR-based flight simulator. More importantly, it evaluated whether a more optimized eye movement pattern could be found in these participants with better flight performance. The results have significant differences between participants with and without flight experience in three key flying QAR indicators: pitch angle 1 s before landing, the mean distance to the reference line, a.......

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The authors are incredibly grateful to Mr. Li Yan for his help in recruiting pilot participants and acknowledge Ms. Bu Lingyun for her work on drawing pictures. The research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number T2192931, 72071185), the National Brain Project (grant number STI2030-Major Projects2022ZD0208500), the National Key Laboratory Project of Human Factors Engineering (grant number SYFD062003), the National Key Laboratory Project of Human Factors Engineering (grant number 6142222210201), and year 2022 Major Projects of Military Logistic Research Grant and Key Project of Air Force Equipment Comprehensive Research....

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NameCompanyCatalog NumberComments
3D engine SDKEpic GamesUnreal Engine 4
GameAnalytics Unreal SDK
This SDK is a powerful yet flexible free analytics tool designed for games.
CPUIntelIntelCore i9One of the most powerful CPU on the mainstream market.
Eye tracking SDKTobiiTobii XR SDKThis SDK provide device agnostic access to eye tracking data to allow development for headsets from many different hardware vendors and is not limited to devices using Tobii Eye Tracking hardware.
Eye tracking softwareDeveloped by the research teamA program that tracks the movement of a person's eyes while they are using a virtual reality HMD.
FlySimulator programDeveloped by the research teamA software that simulates flying experiences in a virtual environment, using VR HMD and hand-held controllers.
Graphics cardNVIDIAGeForce RTX 3090
10496 NVIDIA CUDA Cores
1.70 GHz Boost Clock  
24 GB Memory Size
GDDR6X Memory Type
One of the most powerful graphics card on the mainstream market.
Operating system (OS)MicrosoftWindows XPAn operating system (OS) developed and exclusively distributed by Microsoft Corporation
Replica control panelTHRUSTMASTER2960720 2971004 2962072 2960748 2960769U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft HOTAS
Replica joystickTHRUSTMASTER2960720U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft HOTAS
Replica pedalTHRUSTMASTERTPR pendular rudder
Replica throttleTHRUSTMASTERU.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft HOTAS
Screen connected to PCRedmiRMMNT27NF, 27-inch, 1920 X 1080 resolution ratioScreen allows the experimenter to simultaneously view what is happening in the VR HMD
Screen recording softwareOBS ProjectOBS Studio Version 28.0A free and open source software for video recording and live streaming
Statistical power analysis softwareOpen-SourceG*power Version free and user-friendly tool for estimating statistical power and sample size.
Statistical softwareIBMSPSS Version 24.0A powerful statistical software platform
Versatile statistics toolGraphPad SoftwareGraphPad Prism Version 9.4.0A versatile statistics tool purpose-built for scientists-not statisticians
VR app storeHTC CorporationVIVE Software / app store for virtual reality where customers can explore, create, connect, and experience the content they love and need.
VR head-mounted display (HMD)HTC CorporationVIVE Pro EyeA VR headset with precision eye tracking
VR softwareSteamSteam VR Version 1.23A tool for experiencing VR content on the hardware

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