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Virtual Reality is Born

The Allied effort in the European Theater of Operations relied upon thousands of bombers to help weaken the Axis ability to make war. Thousands of bombers require thousands of crews and heavily armed aircraft such as the B-17, B-24, Lancaster, and others, needed well trained gunners to defend against Nazi fighters. Normal training involved aircraft towing targets and gunners in other aircraft shooting at the targets. To train the number of crews necessary, at least half of the aircraft in Europe would have been needed back in the States. The consumption of fuel, ammunition, and other concerns such as accidents causing loss of life and equipment would have been staggering. Fred Waller, working entirely alone, solved these problems and provided for better training in the bargain.

The roots for the camera used in the Waller Gunnery Trainer stemmed from the inventor's eleven 16mm camera setup that he experimented with in the 1930s.

The Cinerama Adventure will give viewers the opportunity to see some of Waller's 16mm test films. The Trainer was refined to use five 35mm cameras mounted as a single unit and projection was achieved on a hemispherical screen.

The Cinerama Adventure features many official Army photos, such as these, which show the projection and control setup for the Gunnery Trainer. The Trainer featured four gunners stations, two simulating the bomber's top turret and two that could be used for side, nose, or tail training. A belly turret was constructed but never implemented.

Each "gun" station applied realistic recoil feedback to the trainee and headphones fed him the sounds of his guns and other aircraft noises to make this the first virtual reality system ever. Seen above right is the rather complex projection setup.

During the exhaustive research for The Cinerama Adventure the producers unearthed rare newsreel footage showing the Gunnery Trainer in operation.

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Copyright ©2000, C.A. Productions all rights reserved. Created: 2/27/00 Updated: 3/12/2001