Cessna Gives Students an Elegant GIFT

By Scott Spangler on April 6th, 2011

Feedback, information on what students have done correctly, where they need work, and how to make the necessary improvements, is key to any educational program. Its quality and value depends on a flight instructor’s ability to immediately measure performance against quantifiable standards and articulate specific corrections the student can act on.

Providing it in flight is an unappreciated challenge  because CFIs must, at the same time, ensure safety by maintaining situational awareness, keeping track of traffic, and communicating, as necessary, with ATC. Instructors  are better able to focus on student performance in a simulator, but they must still be present, which is why Cessna’s new Guided Independent Flight Training program, developed with King Schools and Redbird Flight Simulation, is a gift to student pilots.

Available exclusively at Cessna Pilot Centers, GIFT covers all private pilot maneuvers, from steep turns and traffic pattern entries to short field takeoffs and landings. Students will not need to schedule an instructor for simulator sessions. John or Martha King teach each maneuver, demonstrating it from different video viewpoints on the sim’s visual display. As they practice the maneuver, the program provides feedback by measuring  their performance again Practical Test Standard parameters.

GIFT does not replace instructors, it augments the time students spend with them in flight. Students, says CPC Manager Julie Filucci, “get the benefit of lessons on specific maneuvers…and are able to fly them as many times as they wish, allowing them to perfect [thanks to immediate feedback] their aircraft handling skills at their own pace in the low-cost environment of a simulator.” And the innovation doesn’t end here.

Pilots start their sim sessions by logging in with a student code or “pilot key” (a USB drive). This configures the simulator and GIFT, compiling the pull-down maneuver menu appropriate to the student’s current level of training. It also records the student activity and performance, which instructors can review at their convenience, just as they can with Cessna’s online ground school program.

The integration of video instruction and simulator activity—with immediate feedback—is an elegant, economical, and efficient use of time for both students and instructors. CFIs can assign maneuvers knowing they will be consistently demonstrated—without distraction—and assessed by checkride standards.

The simulator develops in students a baseline performance that translates to the aircraft. By reviewing the sim performance the CFI will know when the student is ready for flight. Equally important, the instructor will be forewarned of demonstrated weaknesses, from wandering airspeed and altitude to lapses in configuring the aircraft properly for the maneuver.

Guided Independent Flight Training works with Redbird’s entire line of simulators with visual systems, from the flagship FMX (above), an FAA-approved advanced aviation training device with enclosed cockpit and three-axis motion, through the tabletop TD and TD2 (at left), available exclusively through King Schools.

What is most surprising about Cessna’s new GIFT is that someone didn’t come up with it sooner. Computer-based guided training with feedback has been around for a long time, as have simulators. It is one of those combinations of head-smacking obviousness and hindsight question of  Why didn’t I think of that? Fortunately for aviation, the training troika of Cessna, King Schools, and Redbird put the pieces together. It will be interesting to see how many of the more than 250 CPCs participate in the program that goes online in May. –Scott Spangler

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5 Responses to “Cessna Gives Students an Elegant GIFT”

  1. @williamAirways Says:

    This. Is. Awesome! Cessna is finally giving back to the aviation community along with Red Bird and King Schools. Where can I find this free tool and gain access to it? What a gift! I can’t wait to tell my students that there is a free way of training! So excited! What a gift to aviation!

  2. Rodney Hall Says:

    Good Idea, although actual flying is different than a simulator I know that I would have really appreciated something like this if only to get my actions for each maneuver practiced and right.

  3. Stick N Rudder Says:

    Interesting idea, but is it worth the additional cost and time burden that will be imposed on the students who use it? How will CFIs be compensated for the revenue they may lose to machine teaching? In the FAA’s eyes this system is just another FTD with very limited credit towards total training time, correct? Only time will tell if this tool has any value whatsoever. An impartial trial would be nice, but I don’t think there’s the financial will for that.

  4. Travis Says:

    I think this is a great thing for GA as a whole. I got my license 25 years ago. My son is working on his now (age 16). The differences in how I was trained and the options open to him are definitely a positive step.

  5. veryhrm Says:

    This is going to be great for students but, at least in the short run, bad for CFIs overseeing primary training. They’re not going to get paid for 2 or 3 hours while the student gets steep turns or something. I say the short run because maybe in the long run it will lead to more people getting through training and then there might be more demand for additional training, endorsements, currency checks etc.

    On a related note though, i’ve been pretty surprised by just how much flight schools in my area charge for even simple PC based simulators. $20-$30 an hour for using a device that cost maybe $2k – $3k and has zero operating costs. Those numbers really should come down. With these full motion simulators they cost about 40-50% as much as a wet 172 around here. One place has one for $50/hr block time. so it’ll be cheaper… but still not exactly cheap.

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