Flying Scotsman is one of the most prized engines at the National Railway Museum, part of the Science Museum Group (SMG). For the Scotsman’s 100-year anniversary SMG wanted to develop a new immersive experience celebrating its history and bringing to life the science of steam power for a wide audience that would include new generations of visitors.
“Flying Scotsman VR” brings the world’s most famous steam locomotive to life in a multisensory experience using an innovative combination of a beautifully themed physical environment and a free-roam VR experience using the latest untethered VR technology and multi-sensory real-world effects. The attraction is a trailblazer, demonstrating how museum collections can be brought to life in fresh new ways.
The VR experience is suitable for ages eight and up, with three groups of four people per session. Visitors begin their journey by stepping into a beautifully themed physical set of a 1930s waiting room in London’s King’s Cross station. Detailed research was undertaken into the correct paint colours, floor tiling, signage, and authentic props. Ambient sounds and silhouettes of passengers projected onto the waiting room’s doors’ frosted glass panels give the illusion of a busy platform beyond.
Visitors then put on their VR headsets and see the same waiting room inside a detailed digital environment. The doors open and they are encouraged to walk forward onto the digitally recreated platform at King’s Cross station, where they see Flying Scotsman waiting alongside Scotsman’s designer, Sir Nigel Gresley. After stepping onto the locomotive, visitors travel through time – seeing Flying Scotsman being built in the workshops in Doncaster, witnessing the British Empire Exhibition and joining the crew onboard for the 1934 record-breaking 100mph run.
Visitors also get “shrunk” down to the scale of steam particles to explore how steam locomotion works from inside the boiler. The fully immersive VR is complemented with physical effects, including the rumble of the engine, the wind of the locomotive at speed, and of course the heat from Scotsman’s furnace.
At the end of their VR experience, the visitors return back to the waiting room and remove their headsets – and realise they’ve arrived at Edinburgh Waverley, with the transition cleverly delivered in the physical set through reversible signs, digital displays and new audio.
Authenticity was key to the design process, with the National Railway Museum providing the highest level of curatorial and engineering input and review to ensure that every element of the content is accurate. Historical accuracy was achieved using LiDAR scanning and photogrammetry to create digital models of Flying Scotsman and the dynamometer car that recorded its 100mph speed record. The experience ensures there are takeaways for people new to the world of rail, passionate locomotive specialists, and VR enthusiasts alike.
The primary difference between Flying Scotsman VR and other VR-based experiences is the holistic approach to the guest experience design. Guests begin and end their experience inside a fully themed environment without ever seeing the VR spaces, maintaining the magic throughout.
The innovative nature of this experience has attracted whole new categories of visitors to discover the legend of Flying Scotsman. SMG has been delighted with the response from visitors and press alike, with their main takeaway being that “people love it”. Over 80% of visitors thought Flying Scotsman VR was the best thing about their visit to National Railway Museum, and 97% would recommend the VR Experience to others.
Mark Cutmore, Head of Commercial Experiences at Science Museum Group, says “This experience is engaging our visitors in innovative ways still not common in museums, and particularly not at this level of immersion and quality.”
The installation is a testament to how AV technologies are enabling audiences to experience science, engineering, and history in remarkable new ways.
Science Museum Group, Figment Productions