Redbird Sims Changing Training Paradigm

By Scott Spangler on October 29th, 2012

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.

Redbird-4Certainly 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.

clip_image001Lead 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.

Redbird-5Working 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

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8 Responses to “Redbird Sims Changing Training Paradigm”

  1. Eric Says:

    It is really true, the training methodology has not changed too much in the last century. This is a bad news, especially if we take into account some accidents that proved it is necessary a change. At thte same time airlines talked about how to get a pilot job in the future will be necessary to get an improved trainig (http://pilotwork.net/pilot-work-requires-one-of-3-aviation-license-types/)

  2. But What About Says:

    I am a big fan of the technology and hope to see it grow and improve. It offers much hope, particularly in light of the reduced time investment required from enrollment to certificate. However, $250/hour doesn’t seem to lend itself to helping with the elephant in the room: the high cost of that certificate. Shouldn’t training be considerably less expensive per hour in a simulator vs. an actual fuel-burning and insurance-laden aircraft?

  3. Ken Says:

    I think the Redbirds are great training supplement devices, but only for learning certain procedures, such as navigation. Yes, they give the full effect of flying but honestly, when flying a sim, you don’t have a “dog in the fight”. The pressure of time, airspace, traffic, controllers, etc are not the same when you can just hit pause or restart. I am working on my instrument and like using the Redbirds for initial lessons on new information, but nothing beats the real world flying of being in a plane. You just can’t simulate real world stressors.

  4. John J. Says:

    I love this idea. People don’t seem to realize the point of all of this. It gives you experience without the cost, stress, and demands. This way, you can become proficient in the maneuvers, without the worry of weather and other show stoppers. It makes much more sense to learn how to control the aircraft, before you dive into controlled airspace and all it entails.

  5. Mike Troici Says:

    The simulator is an excellent tool for learning the basic procedures and for emergencies that would push the limits of safety in the actual aircraft. But, it seems that the Redbird model of $9,500 dollars for 38 hours of flight time for the private license is not cost effective. A student with a competent flight instructor could acquire a tremendous amount of in-plane experience coupled with some simulator time for that cost. Perhaps there is more to the Red Bird model of instruction than I have read so far.

  6. But What About Says:

    John, I agree with all you say about the many benefits of the technology. But a flat rate of TEN GRAND? Time saving at a higher cost is swell for those with more money than time, but what of the huge majority of us where just the opposite is true? I could understand an article fawning all over this deal if it were “all that and half the cost”. But, at nearly double, I don’t share the giddiness of the author.

  7. B.M. DeVandry Says:

    When utilized in the proper context, Sims are a great tool, (even more so today than they were when I first started using them over 30 years ago). But the whole point of utilizing a “Flight Simulator” is to SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the cost of flight training. Sims such as the Redbird example referred to here are almost as sophisticated as those used by the Airlines in the 70′s-80′s and are wonderful for
    flight training (with a good instructor, as always) But if one is going to have to shell out the same amount (or even closed to) to train in a Sim, as the already currently prohibited rates for an actual airplane, like a C-172 for instance …especially for those just beginning the adventure of flight, then
    there’s no contest. The Actual airplane (with the exception of a Level D type simulator perhaps :-) ) will still provide the most bang for the buck and go a lot further towards earning that Sport, Recreational or Private Pilot ticket …not to mention the exhilaration …the “Fun Factor”

    I’ve had a few opportunities to look over (and yes actually ‘fly’) some of today’s emerging “Light-Medium Airplane” Sims and they’re a far cry from the desktop ATC Pacers or even the Link GAT’s of the last few decades, BUT make no mistake, their manufacturers/operators sole purpose is for generating as much profit as possible, catering more and more only to the “Elite” that can afford them. But what about the rest (OK …I’ll say it …the 99%!) of us? …We’re killing “General Aviation” in this country …making it solely a “Rich Mans” “Sport” …and it’s death spiraling ever faster into becoming just like most of Europe and other countries such as Japan, Korea etc …where “General Aviation” for the masses is practically non- existent. (due to the astronomical costs associated with owning or even operating just about anything that flies)

    Please forgive the rant, but this subject (reasons for General Aviations demise) is a pet-peeve of mine (and a particular heartbreak for me)

    Too many FBO’s, Flight Schools, new entrants and yes, even individual Flight Instructors have been (at least during my 35+ years in Aviation) and continue to deliberately take advantage of their Customers …students …our future peers! And this (unfortunately) seems to be another example. Far too many Schools/Instructors have taken advantage of rule changes and new ‘exotic’ equipment to create elaborate course “packages” and “programs” that go excessively beyond what would actually be reasonably required and they do it PRIMARILY for only one reason …profit!

    The gouging that continues to exist in all aspects of our “industry”, and is a major player in the seemingly inevitable demise of “General Aviation” as we’ve known it. This behavior will continue to drive away even the most affluent “rich man” types …in spite the fact they are becoming the only ones who can most likely afford it!

    It costs a FRACTION of the amount to build/purchase , own/operate …”hanger” and maintain even a sophisticated simulator such as the Redbird than it does even a small (and old) airplane training fleet! “Only” $9000 for a Private Ticket …utilizing a simulator to supposedly reduce costs?!? …come on folks!!!

    Rental rates for a Sim such as the Redbird for example, of say $25-$40 (plus Instructor for dual training) should still generate plenty of profit …but more important, actually provide for a REASONABLE and AFFORDABLE alternative for flight training, proficiency, and yes even just “fun flying” in our increasingly expensive modern world, and would provide companies like Redbird and their customers, more business than they’d know what to do with!

  8. Time is Critical Cost of Flight Training Says:

    […] if specific “weather plans” are part of the overall curriculum. That is one of the goals at the Fox Valley Technical College where the aviation program at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is integrating two […]

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