Dr. Robert Thomas

Dr. Robert Thomas

Assistant Professor & Chief Ground Instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Dr. Robert “Bob” Thomas is an Assistant Professor in the Aeronautical Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus. He teaches accredited coursework in pilot training, aircraft performance, aviation instruction, curriculum design, and photography using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Additionally, Bob serves as the Chief Ground Instructor and a Flight/Check Instructor for ERAU’s 14 CFR 141 Pilot School Certificate. Bob’s research focuses on augmenting and improving flight training methods, education technology, virtual reality training, active learning, and assessing learner knowledge.

With 2800+ flight hours attained, Bob holds the following FAA certificates and ratings: Airline Transport Pilot ASEL & AMEL with CL-65 type rating, Gold Seal Flight Instructor ASE, AME, & Instrument-Airplane; Ground Instructor-Advanced; and Remote Pilot-sUAS.

Bob completed his Ph.D. in Aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a specialization in Aviation Safety and Human Factors. He has a Master of Science in Aeronautics Degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with concentrations in Aviation Weather and Education Technology. Bob also holds a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Human Factors, with a minor in Atmospheric Science, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Prior to becoming a professor, Bob was a full-time flight instructor at ERAU and helped form “Special VFR Productions” to create training videos and a corresponding YouTube page, which gained over 150K subscribers. Bob also was a flight instructor at the University of Illinois and at Central Illinois Air in Mattoon, IL. Additionally, Bob has experience in radio and television production with stations in Illinois serving as a Weather Broadcaster on both AM Radio and TV at WILL, a PBS affiliate, and as the Assistant Operations Manager and Evening Newscast Director for WICD, an ABC affiliate.

Development and Testing of a Virtual Reality Aviation Illusion Trainer

Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University completed development of the Virtual Reality (VR) Aviation Illusion Trainer (VRAIT). Aviation illusions pose a hazard to pilots as the illusions can disorienting or hard to recognize. Recreating these illusions in a controlled environment allow the pilot to gain knowledge, experience, and the ability to recognize what is felt when these illusions occur in flight. Phase 1 of the project, which was completed in mid 2022, used VR to recreate 6 visual illusions that pilots encounter in-flight. Phase 2 added a motion platform base to the VR simulation that allowed the user to experience motion during the 6 visual illusions. In addition, 6 vestibular illusions scenarios with motion were created for a total of 12 VR illusions (6 visual, 6 vestibular). The motion platform allows for a full 360° of unrestricted rotation and 30° of pitch and bank. Continued development now allows for a presentation on the results of Phase 2. The methodology replicates the Phase 1 study by using similar surveys and knowledge tests to collect data on participant knowledge gain, self-efficacy, realism and presence, simulator sickness, learner satisfaction, and usability. Data collection is currently underway and will be completed in early 2023. The presentation will describe a brief summary of the dangers of visual and vestibular illusions, which 12 illusions are included in the training, a brief description of the development process, a few video examples of the lessons, and an analysis of the data. A presentation of the data and a comparison to Phase 1 data will also be presented.