There’s something magical about flying, an almost legendary energy that taps into the fundamental will of all humans to be free — to control our own destiny in the face of certain peril. That’s how I imagine it to be anyway, because like most of us, I’ve been an airline coach-jockey my entire life, where courage is in dealing with the mundanities of confronting a space neither sufficient for my own legs, nor my Palmer Luckey-esque fits of hand flailing that subsequently result from having to block out a whole cabin’s worth of decade-old touch screens displaying Will and Grace or some such nonsense.
When I think of the real courage it must have taken to pilot a mechanical beast, the technology of which was less than 40 years old at the onset of WW2, I’m left in awe.
That’s where Reddit user jwsimmons comes in, otherwise known as Martin.
Martin, most recently known for his exploits in virtually transporting a great-grandfather to his family’s Thanksgiving Day feast, has been putting ‘The Greatest Generation’ back in the VR cockpit since September of 2013, specifically a local men’s group that holds weekly meetings at the library of an assisted living facility in Everett, Washington. The group, called “Wayne’s World,” is named after Martin’s father-in-law and founder of the group, Wayne.
“While trying the simulator one day at my house, [Wayne] mentioned the people in his weekly group would enjoy it as many of them are former pilots and veterans. My son and I thought meeting them would be fascinating (we love airplanes), so we offered to bring it so they could try it.”
Being an IT Director and original Oculus Rift Dev Kit 1 backer, Martin knew first-hand of the device’s potential to scare off uninitiated users, especially those less adept at using new technologies, so he decided to do some reconnaissance on his first trip there—sans VR equipment—to get a better feel of what the group was all about and what they were interested in experiencing.
On Martin’s second trip to the facility however he decided to bring the whole shebang: a small monitor, gaming PC, Saitek Throttle Quadrant, Saitek Combat Pedals, and of course his Rift DK1. A few of the veterans, notably a WW2 ace fighter pilot named Jack who fought in the Guadalcanal campaign, first wanted to play on the monitor to see if the game’s flight mechanics were up to snuff, but eventually the group grew curious about what Martin deftly explained as “goggles to another world.”
Considering the VR headset’s ability to jog visual memories which could trigger war-related trauma, Martin not only offered the group a chance at reliving the glory days in his favorite the flight sim War Thunder, but also had a number of other less intense VR experiences loaded up and ready to play, like the popular Ocean Rift—a hit among casual passersby at the facility.
“For those that didn’t want to fly, there could be a few reasons: no longer interested, bad experience, especially for bomber crews I’d imagine, [perhaps the] technology was too different, and perhaps not wanting to know if you weren’t able to fly still or fail in front of the group… my main worry was the ‘bad experience’ category,” Martin said. “If the hesitation seemed to be something more than just giving the Rift an untrusting glance, I moved right along to other activity options. I wanted to keep it light and fun.”
Martin says the group thought the Oculus Rift was impressive, but it didn’t go without noticing the familiar drawbacks of the first developers kit. “The screen door was noted, and in the flying games the inability to read gauges was a problem. For most other activities it took a back seat to the amazing feeling of immersion.”
On later trips, Martin brought along updated equipment including his new DK2, larger television, Razor Hydra, Max Flight Stick, Buttkicker, TrackIR, and a second computer to allow for more people to experience the wonders of VR.
An older gentleman and former pilot, Dave, easily took to both the DK1 and DK2 and noted that “it has great potential,” and that he can’t wait until he’s able to read the gauges in the airplanes with newer versions of the VR headset—the number one complaint expressed by the retired military personnel.
The number of retired pilots willing to give the simulator their best shot is pretty amazing, but when Martin started taking ‘Wayne’s World’ to familiar places with the help of Google Street View to check out their old neighborhoods, towns and vacation spots, that’s when the word really got out. Residents and visitors streamed into the library to see what all the commotion was about with this new Rift—truly bringing the physically unable to places they’ve never seen, or never thought they would ever see again.
After his most recent trip to the facility for the 360 recording of Thanksgiving dinner, Martin also decided to pick up his very own 360 camera setup. “I can see a lot of potential uses for the 360 video, like events, experiences, etc, as well as a live streaming 360 camera. A recorded VR dinner was very nice, but how about a live streamed grandchild’s birthday?”
Do we detect a future project in the works? We hope so, and in the meantime we’ll be keeping an eye on Martin to see what VR-goodness he cooks up next.
Until then, we say “Party on, Wayne’s World.”