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NASA Prepares for Air Taxi Passenger Comfort Studies

A man in a tan flight suit with black boots sits in a black seat on top of a metal platform below. He is strapped into the seat and wears a black headset and black, large goggles. He is tilted in the seat where the left side is angled down and the right side is angled up due to the motion of the simulator seat.
NASA test pilot Wayne Ringelberg sits in the air taxi virtual reality flight simulator during a test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, in March 2024.
NASA/Steve Freeman

A new custom virtual reality flight simulator built by NASA researchers will allow them to explore how passengers experience air taxi rides and collect data that will help designers create new aircraft with passenger comfort in mind.

Wayne Ringelberg, a test pilot at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, recently completed a series of test rides in the new simulator to help the team make adjustments before other users are involved for the first research study later this year.

“This project is leveraging our research and test pilot aircrew with vertical lift experience to validate the safety and accuracy of the lab in preparation for test subject evaluations,” said Ringelberg. “The experiments in the ride quality lab will inform the advanced air mobility community about the acceptability of the motions these aircraft could make, so the general public is more likely to adopt the new technology.”

Ringelberg was secured into the seat on top of the simulator’s platform, wearing a virtual reality headset and headphones. His simulated air taxi ride started with a takeoff from a conceptual vertiport on top of a parking garage in downtown San Francisco, California, constructed by NASA engineers in the virtual world.

As the programed ride took him through downtown San Francisco and landed at another vertiport on top of a skyscraper, Ringelberg evaluated the realism and consistency of the simulation’s visual, motion, and audio cues. He then provided feedback to the research team.

Two men sit in view in front of two computers with two microphones and with two keyboards. They both wear headsets with microphones. The man in the foreground is wearing glasses, a black hooded jacket and jeans. The man in the background is wearing a white button down shirt and jeans and pushes a button on a keyboard with one hand. On one screen, you can see a animated scene of the inside of an airplane cockpit and buildings below.
NASA researchers Curt Hanson (background) and Saravanakumaar Ramia (foreground) control the air taxi virtual reality flight simulator from computers during a test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, in March 2024.
NASA/Steve Freeman

With pilot checkouts complete, NASA researchers will conduct a series of human subject research studies over the next four years. The goal is to gather information that will help the industry better understand what makes flying in an air taxi comfortable and enjoyable for customers.

This simulator is the centerpiece of NASA Armstrong’s virtual reality passenger ride quality laboratory. The laboratory combines virtual reality visuals, physical motion cues, and spatialized rotor sounds to create an immersive air taxi passenger experience.

The work is managed by the Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology project under NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program in support of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility mission, which seeks to deliver data to guide the industry’s development of electric air taxis and drones.