Flying Scotsman VR brings the world’s most famous steam locomotive to life in a multisensory experience which takes a museum visit to a completely new level. The new immersive attraction uses free-roaming VR headsets to take visitors on a journey back in time and around the world to bring the golden age of rail travel to life. Aside from telling the incredible story of Flying Scotsman, the immersive experience makes full use of the cutting-edge technology to celebrate engineering brilliance and explore the science behind steam locomotion. Flying Scotsman VR is a trailblazer demonstrating how museum collections can be brought to life in fresh new ways – educating and entertaining a new generation of museum visitors.

National Railway Museum, York, UK
- Story, Research & Interpretation - Visitor Analysis - Concept Design & Visualisation - Scheme & Detailed Design - Project Engineering & Technical Design - Interior Design, Set and Staging Design - Lighting, Audio, Video, Network Design - Audiovisual & Interactive Technologies - Graphics - Lighting - Theming - Show Control Specification - Show Programming - Technical Installation & Commissioning - Special effects, 4D Vibration, Movement & Smell - Construction & Installation - Support & Maintenance - Training - Consultancy
AV Awards - Themed Entertainment and Attractions Project of the Year (Finalist)

Flying Scotsman VR

Photos: Science Museum Group, Sarner International Ltd, Figment Productions Ltd

Virtual Reality experience

Client's brief

Flying Scotsman has been described as the most famous steam locomotive in the world and is a prized object in the Science Museum Group collection. An incredible feat of design and engineering, the celebrity locomotive embarked on its first journey from the sheds at Doncaster Works in 1923.

Flying Scotsman consolidated its reputation in 1934 when it was clocked at 100mph, becoming the first steam locomotive to have officially reached that speed. It came to symbolise all that is speed and style, not least because it starred in one of British cinema’s first ‘talkies’ in 1929 and Flying Scotsman train service carried innovations such as a cinema car, cocktail bar, and hairdressing salon.

For the engine’s 100-year anniversary, the Science Museum Group wanted to develop a new immersive experience that would not only celebrate the history of Flying Scotsman but would also bring to life its remarkable engineering and the science of steam power for a wide audience, including families, casual rail enthusiasts and complete newcomers to the National Railway Museum, part of the Science Museum Group. 

The experience also had to be built to tour the UK before being installed as a permanent offer at the National Railway Museum in York, England.

Flying Scotsman

Our solution

Sarner International, in partnership with Figment Productions, were appointed by the Science Museum Group to design and build the new immersive experience.

At every step, we carefully considered the project's impact on the environment. The VR Experience was installed inside two re-usable 40-foot shipping containers to minimise new build requirements and wastage, while ensuring the experience was flexible yet robust enough to withstand the requirements of the centenary tour. When in situ, the containers are joined to create one unit. 

The new attraction uses a combination of a beautifully themed physical environment delivering an audio-visual preshow, followed by an innovative free-roam Virtual Reality experience using the latest untethered VR technology. Vibrating panels, heat lamps and wind-mimicking fans provide multisensory stimulation while visitors are immersed in the virtual world. This is one of the first UK experiences to utilise free-roaming VR, where guests can freely stand-up and walk around via mobile headsets rather than the bulky backpack computers of a few years ago. 

The primary difference between Flying Scotsman VR and other VR-based experiences is the holistic approach to the guest experience design. Guests enter a themed environment and see no sign of a stark VR space. Once the VR headset is on, the guest sees a digital twin of the beautifully themed 1930s railway station waiting room, exactly as they’ve just seen it with their own eyes. At this point, operators open doors to a bespoke VR space, but although the guest inhabits this space, they never see it at all, and when they return to the waiting room, the doors close before they take off their headset, thus maintaining the magic throughout the experience.

The design sets a new standard in STEM education through innovative immersive storytelling as well as world class levels of accessibility, ambitions that drive our team at Sarner.


Audio-visual preshow
Frosted glass projections
Floor finish
Visitors begin their journey by stepping into a carefully crafted physical recreation of a 1930s waiting room in London King's Cross station and taking a seat (or positioning their wheelchair) opposite frosted glass doors that will lead them into hub-hub of a busy station platform. Detailed research was undertaken into the correct waiting room paint colours, floor tiling, signage, and authentic props, including the reproduction of a brochure called "On Either Side" which would have been issued to passengers travelling on the route during that period. Ambient sounds and period railway posters conjure the atmosphere of one of the world's busiest stations. Silhouettes of passengers walking past are projected onto the doors' frosted glass panels, giving the illusion of a busy scene on the platform beyond. In between each of the three benches is a chest of drawers, which conceals technical equipment, as well as offering the opportunity to display a range of props: a used teacup; a cigar put out in an ashtray; an umbrella; suitcases left on overhead storage racks; newspaper copies, spreading news of Flying Scotsman’s record breaking achievements...In the blink of an eye, visitors are fully immersed into a fascinating scene from the past.
Virtual Reality
Photo: Science Museum Group
Virtual Reality
Photo: Science Museum Group
Sir Nigel Gresley
Visitors then put on their Virtual Reality headsets and see the same waiting room inside a detailed digital environment. The Flying Scotsman VR experience is suitable for ages eight and up, with three groups of four people per session. All four guests in a group can see each other as avatars – essential to avoid collisions when they have the freedom to move around in a shared space. The doors open and visitors are encouraged to stand and walk forward onto the digitally-recreated King's Cross station, where they see Flying Scotsman waiting for them to take a ride and meet Scotsman’s engineer and designer Sir Nigel Gresley.
Doncaster Works
100mph record
How steam locomotion works
After stepping onto the locomotive, visitors travel through time. It's another immediately believable world. Over the course of the next 11 minutes visitors are transported to the Doncaster Works where the Scotsman was built, the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 where it wowed the world, and to the boiler room at the very moment Flying Scotsman became the first steam train to breach 100mph in 1934. Suddenly visitors find themselves out in the open air, witnessing the historic race between train, plane and speedboat that took place in 1931, won by the locomotive. The VR technology also enables visitors to explore Flying Scotsman's remarkable engineering, including "shrinking" them down to the scale of steam particles to provide an understanding of 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.
Flying Scotsman
Flying Scotsman
Content production demanded extreme attention to detail when it came to iconic elements like Flying Scotsman itself and the dynamometer car that recorded Flying Scotsman as the first steam locomotive to reach 100mph. This was achieved using a combination of LiDAR scanning and photogrammetry, with this raw, but highly accurate data forming the basis on which optimised models were painstakingly created to ensure smooth playback in VR. Authenticity was key to the design process, with the National Railway Museum providing the highest level of curatorial input and review to ensure that every element is historically accurate. The authentic experience ensures there are takeaways for people new to the world of rail, passionate locomotive specialists, and VR enthusiasts alike.
'I was so impressed by the work of Sarner and Figment to make this experience as compelling a piece of storytelling and interpretation as it has turned out to be. The attention to detail and historical accuracy in both the physical set works and digital experience goes beyond any experience I’ve tried before...Visitor feedback has been fantastic. Alongside the high levels of satisfaction, over 90% of visitors said it has brought the story of Flying Scotsman alive.'
Mark Cutmore Head of Commercial Experiences, Science Museum Group
'At the heart of everything we do in the museum group is to inspire young people to become our future engineers, inventors and scientists; Sarner and Figment have delivered on this mission with Flying Scotsman VR in a truly extraordinary way. As the person leading on the programming and delivery of the centenary I was thrilled with the initial concept of Flying Scotsman VR and have continued to be deeply impressed by how Sarner and Figment worked with us to deliver an exceptional piece of work...The positive visitor feedback and press reviews are a testament to Sarner and Figment’s creative vision and impressive delivery. Working with them is an absolute pleasure.'
Amy Harbour Head of Licensing and Commercial Partnerships, Science Museum Group