The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

A Tale of Two Simulators: VirTra 300 vs ChimeraXR Mythos

Since the first time someone picked up a tree limb and pretended it was a sword, we’ve been continually seeking out and developing new training techniques. The search for better and more immersive environments while balancing time and cost is unending. New technologies often start as expensive propositions, but they become more viable as development continues and cost diminishes. Today, we’ll be covering two different approaches to the same thing: advanced, safe, and immersive training systems that don’t require the use of live ammunition. In particular, the VirTra 300, which uses a large screen, and the ChimeraXR Mythos, which uses virtual reality headsets. 

VirTra 300

Summer 2020 in Arizona wasn’t conducive to live-fire training, given the perfect storm of 115-degree temperatures, wildfire-related shooting restrictions on public land, COVID-induced range closures, and extremely high ammo prices. Rather than rely solely on dry-fire practice at home, we decided this was the ideal time to try out the state-of-the-art VirTra firearms simulator at the Haley Strategic headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. Haley’s D7 Disruptive Performance course is a two-day program that’s limited to just five students, and it takes place without a single live round fired. We attended a D7 Carbine class, but Handgun and Handgun Lowlight versions are also available.

Virtra 300 projectors
The VirTra 300 system uses a series of projectors to display the scenario on a panoramic screen, and sensors to detect the impact of each virtual round fired.

The VirTra system is no oversized arcade game — it’s a sophisticated simulator with an impressive degree of realism. Students use real BCM AR-15s retrofitted with VirTra internals that produce CO2-powered recoil and a corresponding laser flash with each trigger press. An array of sensors detects where the laser impacts on a projector screen, a computer calculates ballistic trajectory in the virtual environment, and the shooter receives real-time audio and visual feedback.

The D7 Carbine course began with a classroom portion that introduced Haley’s “thinkers before shooters” ethos, thoroughly analyzing the mental and physical aspects involved in firearms training. After discussing zeros and hold-overs for various distances, we stepped up to the VirTra 100 (for a 100-degree viewing angle) single-screen simulator, firing our ARs from a prone position at virtual targets from 50 to 500 yards. Our instructors, Josh Logan and Robert Bruce, were able to instantly enlarge our targets and provide guidance based on our shot groups.

Next was a detailed discussion of shooting fundamentals, such as stance, trigger control, sight picture, and eye movement — the latter becomes especially important when dealing with multiple targets in a dynamic setting. Back on the single-screen sim, we ran various drills from low ready and high ready, maintaining an even cadence between shots and receiving one-on-one evaluation from instructors. We finished our first day in the flagship VirTra 300 simulator, testing our ability to pivot and transition between simulated clay targets across the 300-degree screen. 

On day two, we warmed up with the same transition drill, then returned to the single-screen sim for box drills that tested our footwork and ability to move forward, backward, and laterally between shots. The final classroom portion of the D7 class was taught by Travis Haley. It covered the powerful effects of a life-and-death scenario, such as the body alarm response (BAR) that dumps hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. Rather than attempt to resist this inevitable process, we must learn to anticipate and manage it.

Virtra 300
Students in the D7 class faced complex and realistic threats; enemies worked together, used cover and concealment, wore body armor, and even took hostages.

Since firsthand experience is a powerful teacher, the D7 class culminated by testing each student’s performance inside the panoramic simulator. One by one, students were called into the dark room and fitted with a belt-mounted Threat-Fire pack, which delivered a 10,000-volt shock any time we were hit by a virtual incoming round. The consequences of failure would be painful, and this elevated the sense of tension. Haley’s VirTra system includes dozens of scenarios, and each features branching paths and outcomes that can be controlled by the instructor in real time. This made it feel like interacting with live opponents, rather than pre-programmed AI.

We experienced two scenarios, a mugging at an outdoor ATM and an active shooter situation inside a courthouse. These scenarios included multiple assailants, innocent bystanders, and ally first responders, as well as complications such as armored foes and hostage-takers — in the latter case, we were able to negotiate a surrender after an agonizing 90-second standoff. However, the ATM mugging didn’t go so smoothly. Seconds after stopping the first threat, we heard shots from an unnoticed accomplice. Fire was returned but it was too late — we got zapped and received a wake-up call about the dangers of tunnel vision.

This Haley Strategic D7 Carbine class was an incredible experience, and a powerful reminder that real defensive scenarios are far more complex than drills on a 180-degree shooting range. For more information on future Haley Strategic classes, visit haleystrategic.com/train.

ChimeraXR Mythos

Several commercial shooting ranges have added both virtual and live-fire screen simulators (the latter using a large, white self-healing target as a screen) for member use and training. It doesn’t all have to be practical — because playing asteroids with an MP5 or Vityaz is a helluva lot more fun than with an Atari. However, as large-screen simulators make their way into training facilities and well-equipped public ranges, there’s a different approach using a previous promise of the future: virtual reality. 

ChimeraXR Mythos
Don’t let the graphics fool you — it’s easy to obtain total immersion with the ChimeraXR.

There was a point in time when the best VR experience available to a “normal” person amounted to a very expensive (and limited) gaming experience at movie theaters and high-end arcades. The polygon graphics may have been impressive at the time but staying inside the system too long made one queasy. It may have been a blessing that a mere handful of minutes cost more than the movie tickets you just paid for. But times change.

ChimeraXR Mythos
Your training area adjusts to the space available.

As Samsung, Oculus, and Sony released new and better systems, Taylor McCubbin-Freer at ChimeraXR decided it was time to revisit what seemed so close to the future 30-something years ago. The result was a realistic, modular training system with greater capabilities than initially meet the eye. 

ChimeraXR Mythos

There are several ways to map the available space, so the ChimeraXR is scalable. You can see the limits of the space while wearing the goggles, reducing the risk of running into walls or tripping on other items. “We’ve had officers able to run full-out while wearing the gear, using borrowed high school gymnasiums for training,” Will Petty of Centrifuge training tells us. “Once you get settled in it’s very comfortable.” Sensors on the headset and the non-firing replica weapon are all you need to get started, with some optional additional sensors such as one on the ankle for more accurate motion tracking. 

ChimeraXR Mythos

For our purposes, a meeting room at a hotel would serve as our impromptu training arena. As the headset is donned, it’s hard to overstate the level of immersion you feel. A folding chair turns into the seat of a police cruiser. Your gaze falls upon whatever virtual simulation has been programmed. You can move your physical body around virtual objects, and though the resolution from the wireless connection wasn’t quite photo-realistic, it didn’t stop us from trying to grab the non-existent roof of the cruiser when we exited the car. 

Pieing corners also felt real, with every movement and turn of your head accurately tracked by the software. We were even able to prone out and use a vehicle as low cover.

Every scenario is recorded, and results can be hotwashed. Students and instructors can play back and view the situation from any angle. Ballistic trajectories can be turned on and off, and every item in the virtual world can be ballistically rated to simulate cover, concealment, and body armor. 

ChimeraXR Mythos
The basic kits have a small footprint — at least until you add your own upper receiver.

Nearly any environment can be programmed, from a traffic stop on the road, to an active shooter in a school, to a house-to-house CQB scenario. AI bad guys can be programmed to respond in certain ways, or to respond to the scenario as it plays out. The ChimeraXR system is also expandable. Upward of 25-plus other people from around the world can participate in any scenario, with bandwidth and processing power being the main limitations. Participants can be teammates, or they can be opposition.

It’s also just a ton of fun. We wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon just messing around with different scenarios. 

LOOSE ROUNDS

There are certainly advantages to large-screen simulators such as the VirTra. For one, you don’t need somewhat clunky VR headsets, nor weapons that are just a bit more awkward to use than they should be. It’s easy for a spectator to watch the action with no additional equipment, and you’re only limited by your space in terms of people.

With the ChimeraXR, you have to wear the equipment, but you don’t need any sort of dedicated space. Any large room you can find can serve as your training area. Your teammates and instructors can be in the room with you, or all the way across the world. Your adversaries can be computer-driven and entirely virtual, or they can be another physical human wearing a headset. You also end up in a space that has all appearances of being physical but isn’t. 

In terms of starting costs, the ChimeraXR can have additional parts and pieces added over time, whereas the up-front cost of a large screen is much higher. As screen technology continues to improve, the associated costs of wall-o-screen like the VirTra 300 will come down. You’re unlikely to purchase either one of these for home use (unless your last name is Bezos), but if you’re given the opportunity to try one of these systems out, we suggest you take it! 


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