There are two ways for pilots to gain proficiency in an airplane and evaluate its handling qualities: climb into the cockpit and take off, or practice in a ground-based simulator. Now, it is possible to combine the best of both through a new technology called Fused Reality that is being tested by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

Scott Howe performs a task with the Fused Reality system, which displays virtual objects such as runways or other aircraft over what is really there. (NASA/Lori Losey)

The patented technology combines real-world video with interactive computer-generated environments to create a highly immersive training experience for practicing complex tasks such as landing, flying in formation with other aircraft, and aerial refueling. While flying, the pilot wears a special helmet with an optical system that combines the real out-the-window view from a camera with computer-generated graphics of an airfield or another aircraft.

For test pilots, Fused Reality can be used to develop handling qualities evaluation tasks for rating various aircraft configurations, advanced flight control law algorithms, pilot displays, and aircraft modifications. The system can also be used to train test pilots how to do these evaluations.