November 10, 2011
By Ian J. Twombly
“We're going to change the way we train pilots.” That was the message from John King, co-founder and owner of King Schools on the opening of the Redbird Skyport in San Marcos, Texas, Nov. 8. King and about 300 other people from the local community and aviation industry were there to celebrate a new grand experiment in flight training.
The Skyport was built by Redbird Flight Simulations, maker of the FMX low-cost, full-motion simulator for general aviation. Seeing a need to radically change the way we get students through the flight training process, Redbird built a state-of-the-art facility in less than four months that includes a showcase of its simulator products, a large hangar, and an FBO.
An event was held Nov. 8 to celebrate the opening of the facility, and the launch of what many hope will bring fresh ideas into flight training. Roger Sharp, head of the flight training program at Redbird; members of the city council; the mayor; John and Martha King; Mark Paolucci, the senior vice president of sales at Cessna; AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines; Flying magazine editor Robert Goyer; and Avemco President Jim Lauerman all made remarks.
The last of the speakers was Redbird Chairman Jerry Gregoire, former chief information officer of Dell Computers and an aviation entrepreneur. Gregoire said the spirit at the company is one of optimism and hope. “We believe we can do anything we want—we're Redbird,” he said. “We're dedicated to the notion that if it isn't broken, keep fixing it until it is.”
But Gregoire knows flight training is broken. And with the Skyport, his company is taking action to fix it. Everything will be studied at the Skyport, from the flight training curriculum to the type of drinks served in the café. But since this is a simulator company, the focus is on integrating simulators into the flight training process.
Studies have been done in the past on the value of flight simulation in GA training. The bottom line is that all have found they are effective. Redbird is taking it to a new level. The students will become completely proficient in the maneuver or task in the simulator before ever touching an airplane. This concept is being taken so far that the company said it has received approval from the FAA for no minimum airplane time—for the private pilot certificate.
Sharp, and the other leaders of the Skyport, believe that accelerated training is also more effective. They hope that every student, whether business executive or college student, will go through the training process in an accelerated three weeks.
Thanks to a deal with Vaughn College, there will be a large test bed of students. The Queens, N.Y.-based aviation school is sending its first group of flight students to the Skyport in January, with many more to follow.
As further proof that Redbird's Skyport is a contribution to the industry as much as it is a business venture, Gregoire has said the data gathered at the facility will be shared with the industry—a rare step.
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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