LE BOURGET, France — Cobham, the maker of aerial refueling gear found on major tanker aircraft, has rolled out a virtual reality suite to help exercise the maneuver in a realistic environment.

The trick, explains Mike Burke, key account manager at Cobham's mission systems division, is the accurate modeling of the fuel hose and the attached adapter, or drogue, as fuel-seeking pilots may experience both pieces bouncing uncontrollably in midair after a failed tanking attempt.

"Cobham employs high-fidelity air-to-air refueling system performance models, which are of a complex nonlinear nature with hundreds of degrees of freedom," the company writes in a white paper.

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In less technical terms, modeling the hose mid-flight can be understood as modeling "a series of sausages," Burke told Defense News. Only when the hose has the correct tension can a refueling maneuver succeed, and the slight deviations can be lead to mission failure.

Passersby were invited at the Paris Air Show to try their luck maneuvering a fighter plane's rigid probe slowly into a tanker aircraft's drogue basket using simplified controls and a virtual-reality headset.

As with many virtual-reality applications, the company cites reductions in cost and risk in crew training as the main driver behind the development.

The virtual refueling application runs on standard desktop computers.