Given the rapid pace of change in cockpit technology, it’s really sad in a self-destructive way at how slowly change has come to the training paradigm that puts new pilots in those cockpits. With few exceptions, the way an instructor educates a new pilot hasn’t changed in nearly a century. The training duo talks a bit, maybe draws some diagrams, and then climbs into the noisy non-stop classroom that is the training airplane of your choice.
Certainly it was coincidence that sent me related e-mails on the same day. One was from Redbird Flight Simulation. In its first year, Redbird’s Skyport laboratory fledged 20 new private pilots for a flat fee of $9,500. More important, the simulator-based program took 38 hours, two-thirds the time of the national average time invested in the traditional training paradigm.
A contributing factor is GIFT, Guided Independent Flight Training, which introduces students to new maneuvers in the sim and automatically scores their performance. It works in concert with Parrot, Redbird’s communication training software, which coaches students until they are ready to fly for a CFI with a pulse, who is a mentor and coach rather than a primary instructor.
The second e-mail reported that the professional pilot program at the Fox Valley Technical College in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, had its two new Redbird FMX full-motion sims up and running. I responded not with if I’d visit, but when? I’d have to wait until noon.
Lead Instructor Jared Huss gave me the tour of Fox Valley’s new 8,000-square-foot addition to the SJ Spanbauer aviation facility located on the east side of Wittman Regional Airport. The Redbirds have their own rooms, specially designed to draw heat through the ceiling, keep the sim and their computers comfortably cool.
Installed just before the fall semester started, the Redbirds are now flying instrument students, but they will be centrally integrated with all of the school’s professional pilot programs, starting with private pilot. Students now master the private pilot skills in 50 hours, said Huss. He’s hoping that the Redbirds will reduce that by at least five hours.
Professionally giddy to demonstrate the Redbird’s teaching capabilities, Huss offered me the left seat. The sims are configured for Fox Valley’s training fleet, Cessna 172s and Beech Duchesses, and I was making first flight in the latter.
I made the most of my free multi-dual, and the wrap-around visual system and three-axis motion conspired with my eyes and middle ears to produce real beads of sweat. I really didn’t like the result of flying on one engine, below the blue line until I tripped over the red radial line on the airspeed indicator. Let’s hear it for excess altitude.
Working the instructor’s laptop, Huss tossed me all sorts of weather and failures to see how well and how quickly my aeronautical erudition became stick-and-rudder reactions. Reading about multiengine flying is one thing, having enough altitude is another. Opening a worldwide database, Huss offered me an instrument approach to minimums at my airport of choice. I passed. Not having flown for awhile, for my first landing in a Duchess, I opted for a visual approach to Runway 9 at OSH. I didn’t crash, and I didn’t break anything, and I thanked him for not giving me a crosswind.
Mopping my brow, the real learning began when we stood before the big flat screen TV. Huss replayed my flight from the perspective that best illustrated where I could improve. To connect control surface movements to my inputs, he put the cockpit camera in a smaller window. Yup, there I was pulsing the elevator in the flare as I searched for the runway, just a smidge to the right of the centerline.
Only time will tell if simulator-based training is the pilot training paradigm for powered flight’s second century, but Redbird is taking the lead with promising results at its Skyport training laboratory, and schools like Fox Valley Tech are moving forward as well. And from an aviation educational point of view, it’s about time. It can’t help but improve aviation’s chances in the future. Even if it achieves only half of its potential benefits we’ll be better off than reinventing the old training paradigm and expecting a different outcome. –Scott Spangler, Editor