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Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS) Technical Details

Astronauts train at the VMS in the “S-Cab” cockpit simulator.
NASA / Dominic Hart


The Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS) complex provides researchers with exceptional tools to explore, define, and solve issues in both aircraft and spacecraft design. Located at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, we offer fast and cost-effective solutions using real-time piloted simulation, realistic sensory cues, and the largest motion range of any flight simulator in the world. With the ability to travel up to 60 feet vertically and 40 feet laterally, the six-degree-of-freedom VMS provides the highest level of motion fidelity available in the simulation community. Every U.S. aircraft has NASA-developed technology on board, and the VMS supports many of the country’s most sophisticated aerospace research and development programs.

Capability Highlights

  • We can customize the system to simulate any vehicle – whether existing or in the design stage. Simulated vehicles include supersonic x-planes, airships, helicopters, vertical/short take-off landing aircraft, commercial airliners, spacecraft, and more.
  • Simulations are high fidelity – reproducing the flight characteristics of an aircraft with great accuracy. We deliver realistic cues to the pilot in real time, and the pilot perceives the simulated aircraft response to be just as fast as a real aircraft. With this sensation of actual flight, the handling qualities of the simulated aircraft can be effectively evaluated.

Flexibility and Efficiency

  • The VMS offers exceptional flexibility through the “Interchangeable Cab” (ICAB) system. The interior of an ICAB can be modified to represent the cockpit of any aerospace vehicle. Flight controls, flight instruments, and aircraft seats are customized to meet the needs specified by the researcher.
  • For efficient operation, the VMS uses five portable ICABs with varying window layouts and single or dual seat capability . To ensure accurate operation, each ICAB is thoroughly tested in one of two fixed-base labs, where engineers can run a simulation with all capabilities except motion.
  • After testing, an ICAB can be moved to the Motion Base, which offers unequaled range of motion. Moving as much as 60 feet vertically and 40 feet horizontally, the motion base is key to high-fidelity simulation and makes the VMS unsurpassed at simulating aircraft during all phases of flight—including the critical phases of landing and takeoff.
  • The transition from one experiment’s ICAB to the next experiment’s ICAB is executed in only one day, making the most efficient use of the motion base.

Graphics, Instruments, and Controls

  • Our out-the-window graphics – computer-generated images that simulate the outside world for the pilot—are highly customizable. We maintain many representations of geographic locations in the United States and abroad. Three-dimensional models (such as aircraft, ground vehicles, and buildings) are included in the out-the-window graphics, and various weather and light conditions can be simulated. All the scenes can be modified, and new ones are created according to researchers’ needs.
  • The VMS offers accurate instruments – both modern electronic instruments (that can be programmed to display information in many formats) and traditional dial-type instruments. Special types of displays are also available, such as the head-up display to project important data onto a clear screen between the pilot and the window (so that the pilot has less need to look down at the instrument panel during critical phases of flight).
  • Our high-fidelity flight controls (inceptors such as the stick, collective and pedals that a helicopter pilot might use) deliver important cues for the simulation pilot. These controls accurately measure the input a pilot makes, and also provide a realistic feel. They can be programmed to reproduce the characteristics of any existing control, or to exhibit the desired characteristics of future controls.
Main control station at the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS) lab.
NASA / Dominic Hart


  • The VMS Lab houses a high-speed host computer, which runs the simulation model (the software that represents the aircraft dynamics). Various aircraft are simulated by changing the simulation model. The host computer also directs other components and cueing systems of the simulator, including the visuals, sound, force-feel and motion systems.
  • Engineers control simulations from the VMS Lab. They can start and stop a simulation and change experiment variables on the fly. These simulation engineers communicate with the pilot, monitor information generated by the simulation, and record data in numerous formats for later analysis. Researchers can then draw conclusions and learn important knowledge about the aircraft or system being researched.
  • To extend the capabilities of the VMS Lab to distant locations, our engineers have developed Virtual Lab (VLAB). This unique technology gives remote researchers the same simulation monitoring tools available to engineers inside the VMS Lab. A remote researcher can view all of the same data, talk to the pilot, consult with personnel in the VMS Lab, and even affect a simulation as it occurs in real-time.


  • Through Virtual Airspace Simulation Technologies (VAST), the Vertical Motion Simulator is integrated with other simulators at NASA Ames Research Center – including FutureFlight Central (FFC) and the Crew-Vehicle Systems Research Facility (CVSRF). This connectivity provides simultaneous cockpit and air traffic control perspectives. This unique capability enables systems-level analyses of concepts across multiple domains and creates the building blocks for simulating more of the operations encompassed within the national airspace system.
  • The VMS can also be connected to other simulators via a High Level Architecture for remarkable real-time, distributed simulation with our partners. This enhances the realism of scenarios and allows collaborative teams to work together in creating the best solutions possible.


The VMS plays a vital role in the advancement of aerospace vehicle design. By providing versatile subsystems and accurate tools, along with simulation subject matter experts, the facility offers researchers quick and cost-effective solutions in aeronautical design. We have made decades of contributions as part of NASA’s transformation of aviation – today’s simulations power real-life benefits for tomorrow.

Vertical Motion Simulator – Further Reading (External Links)