Sooner Flight Academy, in collaboration with Trifecta Communications, released its first educational augmented reality app on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the 15th Annual Aviation Festival at Max Westheimer Airport, giving those in attendance a first glimpse at SFA’s innovative new digital learning tool.
Using a smartphone or tablet, users can scan a flat surface, such as the floor of a large room or gym or the ground in a yard or park, and the app will “place” a life-size digital airplane into their environment. Users can then explore and interact with the aircraft, learn about the parts of the plane and test their knowledge about airplane functionality.
“One of the most exciting aspects of coming to SFA for a field trip or summer camp is getting to interact with the airplanes,” SFA curriculum coordinator Jenny Bailey said. “Not everyone can come to the airport, however, and when we take our programming on the road, we aren’t able to take the planes with us. SFA’s new AR app helps bridge that access gap and gives users an excellent, simulated experience of interacting with a real-life airplane.”
The app is the first of its kind in an aviation education setting and an important new tool for the future of digital learning at Sooner Flight Academy. The aircraft featured in the app is a composite of several of the most common models of training aircraft, including those from the OU School of Aviation Studies fleet, to ensure the augmented reality plane feels familiar to anyone who has ever interacted with a training aircraft.
“This project is an excellent demonstration of augmented reality’s potential,” said Brent Wheelbarger, CEO of Trifecta Communications. “Who would’ve thought you could bring a massive object to life, with correct dimensions and true-to-life functionality, and then allow for it to be fully explored like it’s sitting in front of you – all with a tablet or phone. This is truly a glimpse of the future.”
The initial idea for the app arose in March 2020, following the news that the university was shutting down all in-person activities in the wake of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As Bailey and Dawn Machalinski, SFA program director, began transitioning the SFA summer camp curriculum to an online format, they quickly learned that hands-on activities that relied on contact with a real aircraft would be nearly impossible to replicate online.
“We modified about 250 activities across the 10 camps that we run each summer,” Bailey said. “The ones we couldn’t modify were the ones that dealt with the airplane where they would go out and do a pre-flight inspection on a plane or go out and get in the cockpit to learn about the controls.”
Bailey then remembered an augmented reality scavenger hunt app that Trifecta Communications had developed a few years earlier that involved finding a location and receiving the next clue from a video within the augmented reality space.
“We knew if we were going to continue distance education and offering online camps that we were going to have to have some kind of featured attraction,” Bailey said. “Our wow factor for our in-person camps is you get to fly in a plane. Working with Trifecta to develop everything has been great.
“I’m excited for the opportunity this app gives us to offer virtual field trips to schools and groups across not only Oklahoma, but the nation. If funding is an issue, our virtual field trips, along with access to the augmented reality app, allow schools to give their students the Sooner Flight Academy experience at a manageable price.”
Sooner Flight Academy’s augmented reality app is free to download from iOS or Android app stores and includes access to the teaching and testing portions of the app. Access to the augmented reality section of the app requires an access code that can be purchased for $2.99/device for 30 days of access. Group discounts for schools and other groups are available. More information about the app is available by viewing this video.
The next phase of development for the app will include the ability to conduct randomly generated pre-flight checks on the aircraft to show users the procedures pilots use to spot damage or potential problems with a plane on the ground before they fly.
“It’s going be a very heavily graphically interactive experience that will cost about $10,000 to develop,” Bailey said. “Any money we make on this version of the app will go toward funding this expansion of the app to make the experience richer and more detailed.”
Want to know more about Sooner Flight Academy? Visit their website to learn more about the educational opportunities they offer.