In recent years, Special Operations Command has dealt with a spike in fatal parachute accidents, with 2015 being one of the deadliest years for operators in free-fall training. A California-based company is hoping to help SOCOM make jumps training safer through virtual reality.
Systems Technology Inc. has its PARASIM rig set up here, which combines a suspension harness and head-mounded virtual-reality headset to simulate a jump anywhere in the world. A Military Times investigation in February uncovered deaths due to poor form while in free-fall, overconfidence or unfamiliarity with proper methods of dealing with faults.
The PARASIM 7 rig simulates both the freefall and under-canopy portions of a descent, and simulates faults such as tangled or improper parachute deployments, so by the time jumpers leave the aircraft the procedures are already muscle memory.
"You get to do all the stuff in here," said David Landon, a retired SH-60 Seahawk pilot and president and CEO of Systems Technology Inc.
The system is already being used in the military — there are six of them at Fort Bragg, which is the home of the Army Airborne School, for example.
The developers work with the parachute manufacturers to get the characteristics of the equipment identical in their system. Additionally, the company is working on a global mapping system that will help operators with mission planning ahead of jumps.
"If I need to insert a SEAL team in Syria tomorrow night, all I need is a latitude and longitude," Landon said. "So by the time they actually make the jump, they’ve already done it. There are no surprises."
The simulator will even adjust for the predicted weather, phases of the moon and constellations that will be visible when the teams make the jumps, Landon said.
Some operators are concerned that the introduction of simulators to the force will take away from actual jumps, but the risk of that is limited, especially when the trainer is being used early in an operator’s career.
"I think the fear is that if you have this, it will take away from the actual jumps, and maybe it will maybe it wont," said Landon. "Maybe in training early on, but your first jumps have limited value anyway because its just so much sensory overload: you are 100 percent focused on not dying."