It has now been two years since aviation established a footing in VRChat (VRC). It is a number that rolls easily off the tongue but that carries with itself a very important connotation. It means that, despite all odds, aviation related communities are not only alive but have been growing immensely.
I personally didn't get into VRC until mid-last year, when I got my hands on an Oculus Rift S thanks to my good friends Aaron and Cody. My initial expectations for the aviation worlds was low, mostly because I knew that VRC was not built with vehicles or aircraft in mind. I could not have been more wrong with my expectations. I could have never anticipated what awaited me.
Note: Thanks to VTail for aiding with most of the screenshots present in this article!
AN UNEXPECTEDLY GOOD EXPERIENCE
Instead of broken planes and barely flyable machines, I found an impressively well developed flight system. I was extremely surprised at how intuitive the controls were, since they utilized the VR controllers and their position in relation to a relative zero to emulate a flight stick and throttle. The rest of the actions (gear, flaps, missiles, guns, etc.) were performed using action wheels, akin to the ones you would see on console titles, which you controlled with the joysticks on the controller. It was a great experience.
Like many, my first experience with these planes and the system that drives them was in the showcase world made by the creator of this flight system, Test Pilots. Made by Sacchan, who we have interviewed previously, this world showcases the SaccFlight system that he created with a variety of aircraft that were modeled either by him or Sagi-chan. These aircraft are extremely fun to fly, which is evident by the amount of people that have favorited the world surpassing +185,000 as of the time of writing, with a visit count in the 3.8 Million range. An absolutely impressive amount that I was not expecting from an aviation world.
This is where things get interesting. Since Sacchan's pre-fab is public, this has led to a flood of creators to hop onto the aviation train. This is the aspect that interests me the most about VRC Aviation: Its community.
For a socially-focused game like VRC, it is only natural that communities will be formed. Since the start, there have been several communities within VRC Aviation that have dedicated themselves to creating content. For the most part these communities are English-speaking, with the second largest cluster being the Japanese-speaking ones.
From the extremely serious Japanese VRC Flight Academy to less serious worlds that let people just fly together and relax, the amount of worlds is absolutely mind-blowing. It has been a blast being around people from South East Asia, Europe, India, Africa and the Americas, mostly when all of us share this passion for aviation, to a certain degree.
I have spent most of my time in VRC with some of the independent creators and users as well as with a lot of the members/admins from the VRC Black Aces, one of the biggest communities currently in VRC Aviation. They are an interesting bunch to hang around, since many of the admins are involved in world creation themselves. There is always something going on. Be it someone needing testers for their new aircraft or someone that needs to verify that a new feature works as intended. These are almost daily occurrences.
Of all these creators, there are a some with whom I interact with more. Riko and NON (both being the Black Aces head admins), Zweikaku, Erika, Zhakami Zhako, Ahri, Raptoritasha, VTail (the one who generously provided most of the screenshots used in this article), Sagi-chan, Uni Power and even Sacchan himself. There are more, of course, I most probably missed a couple of people here. Not everyone mentioned above is from the Black Aces, keep that in mind.
As to the Black Aces, just like other communities before them, have been organizing events and get-togethers. This is an aspect of VRC that I was already familiar with as some of my earlier exposures to VRC Aviation prior to my direct involvement with the community were through these events, as I did attend a couple alongside Aaron and Cody.
EVENTS, AIRSHOWS AND TOURNAMENTS
This is, to me, the most exciting part about VRC Aviation and the one that differentiates it from any other virtual aviation experience out there. It combines the social aspects of VRChat with aviation in just the right ways to form an experience that you cannot get anywhere else.
Be this a free-for-all dogfighting event, a full-on airshow or a ranked tournament. I have never seen a place where you can have this much direct interaction with participants and other community members. I suspect that this is due to the immersion and depth that VR brings. There are other games with similar events and communities, one of these being DCS World. But DCS airshows are presented on livestream format by big communities, forcing you to only witness it from the ground as if you were watching an actual airshow from your TV. In VRChat, this is not the case. Aside from the 80 person per instance limit, everyone is welcome to join the Black Aces airshows and events.
As a spectator, these shows are a blast. You get to see some rare aircraft that you can only see in the virtual realm, as they no longer fly or have been destroyed. You also get to see them up-close and personal as the real life airshow restrictions are nothing but a joke in VRC. Extremely low passes at supersonic speed, tandem cobra maneuvers in front of the audience and some pretty unique formations. All of that while in VR, giving you a sense of depth that you can only get with that block of plastic strapped to your head.
I have participated as a pilot in two of these airshows and all I can say is that this is the only experience that has motivated me to learn more aerobatic flying. You can see me above flying as number 3 in that 5-man formation doing the break. That event was a blast for me, as we rushed practice since I was only a back-up pilot for that position until the actual person was unable to fly that day. I got an intensive course, got accustomed to the routine and everything went as planned.
The other occasion was a bit more special for me, though. I got to fly the An-225 only a couple of days after it was confirmed as destroyed during the ongoing Ukrainian-Russo War. We wanted to honor the memory of that giant of aviation and what better way to do it than letting people have a look at how it would have been to have that aircraft fly overhead. I planned out the route for the final pass as that is when we wanted people to see the Mriya. As I was the center of attention, I got to fly as flight-lead for that formation. I was immensely excited and nervous since I had one shot to get it right. You can see the results below:
This brings us to the tournaments. I never expected to see a competitive scene rise in VRChat. Yet, here we are. Several communities arrange and regulate independent tournaments. The ones I follow the most are the ones that the Black Aces organize. They started small, with only 20 or so people signing up for their events but have grown exponentially since then.
The last two tournaments have been particularly big for VRChat, which even forced the organizers to split the participants in elimination brackets divided by block. This was due to having 80 or so participants per event, which would break any sort of acceptable experience due to performance reasons. They have livestreamed these events to their YouTube channel.
They are particularly exciting and surprisingly well organized, even if there are a couple of hick-ups here and there behind the scenes. I even participated as one of the commentators for last tournament's finals. It was an exciting event with lots of impressive maneuvers performed by the participants. Here's a couple of shots from the last two tournaments, which had F-14Ds and MiG-29As respectively. Additionally, I designed the tournament liveries!
For me, this community has been a breath of fresh air. I mostly come from the DCS World side of things, where elitism is not only prevalent but just an inherent part of the community, as I stated in my last article about letting yourself love your own play-style. It is one of the reasons why I do not really interact with the greater DCS community. In VRC, specifically the creator side of things, I expected much of the same. I couldn't have been more wrong.
People are constantly helping others out, sharing their code and experience because they want this community to grow and learn. No one here is doing anything for money, everyone is here because this is a passion of theirs. They have even motivated me to start learning Blender and take up VRChat world development. I have actively pursued the first part by starting to model an aircraft that my friend, Hueman, and I have been designing for quite a while now. It's Hue's original design with my take on several aspects, but it will be ready and flying in a Skyward-themed world at some point in this year. That is the plane model you see above, which is the state of the asset as of the time of writing.
This community has been unexpectedly welcoming. In fact, the word "unexpected" can be used to describe most of my experience in VRC Aviation so far. I cannot wait to see what these guys make in the future, as everything I have seen until now has been nothing but impressive. Fly skyward and fly safe.
About the author:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and the co-founder of Skyward ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034