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LifeFlight uses VR to recreate storm winch missions

written by Adam Thorn | September 8, 2020
RACQ LifeFlight VR simulator
RACQ LifeFlight aircrew wear a VR headset to replicate storm conditions difficult to accomplish in the air (RACQ LifeFlight)

Aircrew officers at RACQ LifeFlight are using a new virtual reality simulator to recreate winch missions in gale-force winds.

The new technology, funded by more than 2,000 donors, allows the aeromedical charity to simulate dangerous conditions that would be impossible to replicate during live, low-level flying.

Aircrew officer Greig Allan said, “You wear a harness, you can put your gloves on, you have a headset on, you hear everything through the headset as you would for real, the winch cable runs through your fingers, sitting with the winch pendant in your hand also.

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“Without that harness, you do get a sense that you might fall out the door if you’re not careful.”

The virtual reality set-up saves the cost of flying hours as well as leaving more crew at bases ready to respond to an incoming emergency.

The simulator can be adjusted to model either an AW139 or Bell 412 helicopter, allow officers from the LifeFlight Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Bundaberg and Roma bases to train in it.

Meanwhile, Brisbane-based flight nurses and Roma-based Surat Gas Aeromedical Service (SGAS) paramedics can also take advantage of the tech to train for negative clearance tests.

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“In the real world we’re pretty much limited to low heights for our training, we can’t introduce things that would potentially be dangerous in the real world, whereas we can do all that here,” said simulator instructor Simon Gray.

“I can change the sea state from a nice calm mirrored surface to a Beaufort scale five gale, I can put lightning into the equation, I can bring the wind, I can get people to move. We don’t get a lot of time in the back of the aircraft in the cabin, because of the costs involved, so this really is going to allow us to develop our crewmen to the next level.”

Last month, Australian Aviation reported that RACQ LifeFlight Rescue completed a medical fit-out of three former RAAF Challenger 604 jets, which have joined its fleet.

The Queensland aeromedical charity added that the aircraft, which can reach 1,050 kilometres an hour, were formerly tasked with transporting high-profile figures such as prime ministers and members of the royal family.

After retirement from the RAAF, the jets were stored in the US, before LifeFlight collected them in February.

The organisation said the jet predominantly flew around Australia during their military service, but also had spells flying in the south Pacific, south-east Asia, Middle East and European regions.

Its fleet now consists of four Challenger 604s, two of which will be based in Brisbane and two in Townsville.

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