Fly an F-15, land a Spitfire or race an F1 car with Cambridgeshire-based VR Sim
Many new businesses and projects have popped up all over the world as a direct result of lockdown. One such example is VR Sim, based in Hemingford Grey, which gives thrill-seekers – or those who just fancy trying something a bit different – the chance to test their skills on a simulator that vividly recreates the excitement of both flying and driving at speed.
You can race your favourite sports cars or an F1 car around a variety of circuits, take off from an aircraft carrier or roar into battle as pilot or door gunner in a UH-1H Huey Helicopter Gunship.
Fans of vintage aircraft can also attempt to land a Spitfire. For something more current, the F/A-18 Hornet from the new Top Gun movie is available, along with F-15C, F-16C, F-14A/B, A-10C aircraft, an Mi-24P Hind gunship and more. All of these options are available with either VR or 43-inch screens.
The business was set up by Matt Vann, who lives in Papworth Everard and runs a digital marketing business focused on financial products and services. He says: “It was one of those things borne out of lockdown, really, in that my son is just getting to an age where he’s starting to play more computer games.
“In lockdown I bought a computer to play with him, and in the process rekindled a love of flight simulators from when I was a teenager. I came across this video of a flight sim, which I didn’t realise was a flight sim to start with. I thought it was just a video of someone landing a plane... I thought it was cool so I bought it and was sitting there with my VR headset on in one of my reception rooms.
“I thought it would be really cool if there was somewhere where you could do that, and then this ridiculous idea was born! So I looked into information platforms on how best it could be engineered. My son’s a bit more into cars so I thought, ‘Was there a platform where we could accommodate cars and flight?’, and came up with what we’ve got now.”
Matt reveals that the motion platforms themselves are manufactured by a French company – “although largely using British components, I discovered during assembly,” he notes, “but we bought them from a company down in Dorset which imports them into this country. Then the rest of the components were done through research, making sure it would be compatible.”
The simulator is one machine with two systems and is interchangeable between flight and cars. Matt says that users can choose from about 10 or 12 different aircraft and “60 to 80 cars and around 40 circuits”. He adds: “They come in and have this experience either using a 43-inch screen or the VR headset, which is where the real immersion comes in – you’re really in the cockpit.
“I like the VR side of it but some people do get motion sickness from VR. So most people, if they haven’t got some experience with VR, normally I suggest that they start with the screen and then they can try with the headset later on in the session.”
VR Sim was started by Matt with help from his father, who previously worked as an air-traffic controller. “He helped build the platforms and we researched and came up with premises together,” explains Matt, who notes that the premises are fully Covid-secure, “but the day-to-day management of it is down to me.”
Matt says that, as far as he is aware, there is no one else in the country doing what he is doing – “certainly on the flight sim side, because the people who we’ve licensed the flight sim software from have used our contract as an example with the Ministry of Defence, who are also looking at licensing the same software.
“So we’re unique in the UK. I think there are some organisations in Israel that use the same software for pilot training but nothing else in this country, as far as I know.”
What has business been like so far? “It’s been a slow start because obviously it’s a fairly niche business,” says Matt, “and I think there’s still some reluctance from people to come out and do things inside – although in the last week, business has picked up a bit and we’ve started seeing more interest.
“And certainly for half term, as you’d expect, there were a few bookings coming in. It will take a little bit of time to get word around.” Matt says that people of all different ages have come in, and that it’s “probably been 25 per cent flight and 75 per cent cars – just because cars are a bit more mainstream.”
When booking a half-hour session, the participant can choose either flying or driving, but not both in the same session. Meanwhile, the business also offers a fear of flying course. It promises to immerse you in the seat of a two-seat light aircraft, and flying you over, around and through a range of terrains at a variety of altitudes and speeds.
Participants experience the motion of take off, flight and landing, along with the typical vibrations associated with control surfaces and landing gear moving to help overcome their fears.
In the business’ opening phase, racing costs £20 for half an hour and flying is £25 per half-hour. Two people can race or fly £20 each on weekdays. One hour sessions are £45 for flying or racing. Flight sim aficionados can also supply custom missions using DCS . miz files ahead of booking.
Visit vr-sim.co.uk to book.