The line between flight simulation and the real thing has been further blurred.
Barco's RP-360 dome is said to be the first rear-projection flight simulator to fully immerse pilots in training with an unobstructed 360-degree view of the world as they conduct virtual missions.
The dome is powered by an array of 13 high-definition projectors which cast images onto the outside of an acrylic sphere which measures 3.4 meters in diameter. The trainee pilot sits on the inside looking at the inner surface freely in all directions, just as in a cockpit.
The 10-megapixel projectors help to keep costs down with liquid crystal on silicon technology (LCoS) which typically provide more resolution and contrast than LCD and plasma displays.
Depending on configuration, the system's resolution (up to 2.9 arcmin/OLP) comes close to the limits of 20/20 human visual acuity.
"It's not an improvement, it's a new generation of simulators," Geert Matthys, research and development manager at the company, told Reuters.
"If a pilot has a cockpit where he can see 360 degrees, he also needs to be trained in a system which supplies 360 degrees, all deviation from real life can be dangerous," said Mattys.
Lasers are used to line up the 10-megapixel projectors so that the different projected images are perfectly aligned, resulting in no segments of seams in the field of view.
Barco engineers heightened the realism by replicating the exact contrast that a pilot sees by limiting the brightness of the image from throwing too much light onto the darker areas.
Pilots can even wear night vision goggles in the simulator and see true-to-life halo and blooming effects that occur in night operations.
Barco's goal is to help reduce training costs by bringing more training tasks to ground-based training systems.
Elbit Systems bought the first dome, which will be used by the Israeli Air Force once fully operational in 2012.
A two and a half minute video describing the RP-360 dome is available here.