The Flying Scotsman VR experience in York takes you back in time to the heyday of the iconic locomotive
A new immersive experience has opened up in York, and it’s awesome. The Flying Scotsman virtual reality (VR) experience at the National Railway Museum celebrates 100 years of the world’s most famous locomotive. The digital experience is a fun, educational and delightfully detailed 360-degree animated journey, thanks to Lidar (light detection and ranging) scans of the iconic railway locomotive.
“We scanned down to the last bolt,” said Simon Reveley, CEO of Figment Productions, a studio specializing in immersive attractions.
“I came to this knowing very little about Flying Scotsman,” Reveley added during a preview of the experience.
“Now my team is made up of world experts! »
Before you even step into the VR headset, you’ve already been transported back in time through a cute projection of vintage passengers passing the soon-to-open glass doors. In reality, the doors open into a nondescript plywood wall but, with your helmet, you are invited to enter the digitally recreated 1928 King’s Cross station, complete with vintage steam. Your guide in this virtual world is Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of the Flying Scotsman.
A computer generated graphic from the National Railway Museum’s Flying Scotsman VR of the iconic locomotive on display as part of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley
A CGI rendering of the interior of the Flying Scotsman VR by LNER Chief Mechanical Engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of the famous locomotive and who is the main guide to the VR experience
Gresley guides you through the history of the locomotive, from its first public relations outing at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Park in 1924 to its current incarnation as a restored and still running engine.
There’s also a miniature railway-style glimpse of the locomotive’s ill-fated tour of 1960s America, showing how British Rail’s Flying Scotsman was markedly different from the 1920s original.
You’re also miniaturized to fly through the interior of the locomotive, learning the power of steam as you progress through the red-hot boiler and engine combustion chamber.
Vibrating panels, heat lamps, and wind-mimicking fans provide multi-sensory stimulation as you gently spin through the virtual world. It took nearly a year for Figment and its partner company Sarner International to bring this world to life.
The most exciting part of the experience is a faithful recreation of a 1930s speed trial alongside a speedboat and a de Havilland Puss Moth monoplane. A pigeon swoops dangerously close to your head and you instinctively move out of its way. (This speed trial is based on an actual race, captured on Path film, one of many vintage PR stunts LNER has staged to promote its push rail service along the East Coast Main Line. )
Carlton writes: “The most thrilling part of the experience is a faithful recreation of a 1930s speed trial alongside a speedboat and a de Havilland Puss Moth monoplane”
A family enjoys the National Railway Museum’s Flying Scotsman VR experience
Visitors can explore the interior of the Flying Scotsman in the VR experience. “We scanned every last bolt,” said Simon Reveley, CEO of Figment Productions, the studio behind the attraction.
The Flying Scotsman VR experience is suitable for ages eight and up, with three groups of four per ten-minute session. Each group of four gets the same animation projected into their VR headsets, but depending on where you are in the group, you’ll have a slightly different perspective. For example, those on the left can peek over the side of the Flying Scotsman during the speed test. But there are realistic views no matter where you are. The animation designers recommend rotating throughout the experience to get the most out of the 360-degree world.
“Give yourself to the present moment,” advised Figment’s Reveley.
‘Look around you. It’s a 360 degree experience. Wherever you turn your head, there is something new to see.
The experience began at King’s Cross station around 1928 and turned into a celebration of the centenary of rail held at the British Empire Exhibition held in Wembley Park, London, in 1924 and 1925. At this exhibition, the engine 4472, one of 79 Class A1 locomotives, was chosen to become The Flying Scotsman. It quickly became a high-speed rolling advertisement for the new LNER, one of the then “big four” railway companies.
A side view of the Flying Scotsman, temporarily parked at the National Railway Museum, York
The Flying Scotsman on display at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley
In 1934, the Flying Scotsman became the first steam train to cross 160 km/h. The image above shows its controls
Ed Cookson, director of Sarner International, left, and Simon Reveley, CEO of Figment Productions, co-developers of the Flying Scotsman VR
The Flying Scotsman at King’s Cross in October 2022
The engine regularly broke speed records on downhill sections through Lincolnshire. In 1934, the Flying Scotsman became the first steam train to cross 100 mph, a publicity stunt. Speed was measured in a dynamometer cart, a wheeled laboratory built in 1906 and stuffed with delicate instrumentation. This wagon is a permanent part of the National Railway Museum and it plays in the virtual world.
The Flying Scotsman is a working train which will make 15 national tours in 2023. It is static at the National Railway Museum until the end of April. It’s nice to see the engine up close and personal before (or after) joining the Flying Scotsman VR experience.
The Flying Scotsman was built at Doncaster in February 1923 as a Class A1 locomotive and converted to a Class A3 in 1947. It continued to run until 1963. British Rail planned to scrap the Flying Scotsman, but it was was bought by a train-loving businessman and embarked on a world tour (which put the businessman out of business).
During the Flying Scotsman’s initial working life, it underwent several boiler, wheel, cylinder and tender changes. The restorers believe that only the rear two-thirds of the chassis and part of the sides of the cabin are completely original. The visible smoke deflectors on the front of today’s locomotives divide enthusiasts. Purists don’t like them because they weren’t part of the original engine, but without them it would be nearly impossible for the engine to keep running on today’s rail network.
Many of the changes in shape, color and fittings of the Flying Scotsman over the years are shown in the VR film, and so it can be enjoyed by picky Flying Scotsman fans as well as those who enjoy (virtual) smoking.
The Flying Scotsman VR experience is housed in two shipping containers at the rear of the National Rail Museum with free entry. The experience costs 7 per person. Users must be at least 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) tall. It is advisable to book in advance. Captions or audio description can be provided for those who request it, and the height of the experience is such that wheelchair users get views similar to those who are standing. The VR headset fits over the glasses, but zoom glasses wearers may have to push the device to find a sharp sweetspot.
The VR headset tracks where a user’s hands are, and these can appear in the virtual world, albeit disconnected from the rest of the body. Other members of the group are represented by neon-colored drop-shaped figures.
The National Railway Museum is a cavernous collection of train and railway memorabilia known locally as ‘Yorkshire’s greatest umbrella’.
Flying Scotsman VR was commissioned by the Science Museum Group and developed in conjunction with Figment Productions and Sarner International. The experience is staged to coincide with the Flying Scotsman centenary celebrations and therefore has a one-year lifespan.
The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway artefacts in the world. The collection includes more than 260 locomotives, rolling stock, coins, medals, railway uniforms and equipment, documents, works of art and photographs. The National Railway Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon.
Carlton Reid traveled to York from Newcastle on an LNER service along the East Coast Main Line.