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A technology based on Virtual Reality simulation offers a safe, cost-effective way for parachute jumpers to hone skills and plan missions before taking to the air.
In recent years, the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has dealt with a spike in fatal parachute accidents, with 2015 being one of the deadliest years for operators in free-fall training.
Systems Technology Inc.’s PARASIM combines a suspension harness and head-mounted virtual-reality headset to simulate a jump anywhere in the world.
According to defensenews.com, the PARASIM 7 rig simulates both the freefall and under-canopy portions of a descent, and simulates faults such as tangled or improper parachute deployments, so by the time jumpers leave the aircraft the procedures are already muscle memory.
The system is already being used in the military — there are six of them at Fort Bragg, which is the home of the Army Airborne School, for example.
The developers work with the parachute manufacturers to get the characteristics of the equipment identical in their system. Additionally, the company is working on a global mapping system that will help operators with mission planning ahead of jumps.
“If I need to insert a SEAL team in Syria tomorrow night, all I need is a latitude and longitude,” said David Landon, a retired SH-60 Seahawk pilot and president and CEO of Systems Technology Inc. “So by the time they actually make the jump, they’ve already done it. There are no surprises.”
The simulator will even adjust for the predicted weather, phases of the moon and constellations that will be visible when the teams make the jumps, Landon said.
According to the company’s website, from the head-mounted 3D VR display to the suspension harness that detects jumper inputs, the parachute simulation technology recreates the conditions of a live jump. Controls, real world scenes, malfunctions, wind profiles, various weather conditions, and a full library of terrain types add up to a realistic experience.
The system allows planning a group mission including possible problem scenarios, using real-world terrain data and imagery. Team members can see each other in the shared virtual environment, follow the team leader, practice free fall maneuvering, avoid collisions, and land safely together at the target.