October 24, 2012
By Ian J. Twombly
Simulation in training works. That not-so-surprising admission came from Redbird Skyport's Roger Sharp during the company's second annual Migration Flight Training Industry and Design Conference, Oct. 22 through 24, in San Marcos, Texas. What is surprising is that students are earning their pilot certificates in an average of 38 hours of flight time as a result of that fact.
Sharp's highly anticipated remarks laid out the Skyport's progress over the past year. Company representatives call the Skyport a flight training laboratory, and according to Sharp, that's exactly how they approach training. Redbird Chairman Jerry Gregoire calls the facility a, “privately funded, public-benefit facility.” Everything from the building layout to flight instructor methods are studied and altered so as to determine the absolute best way to approach the issue. “First we fix it. Then we break it and figure out a different way to fix it,” Sharp said. As a public-benefit facility, Gregoire said everything they do is freely available to anyone who wants it, including their competitors. “Take it, use it, and go get rich off it,” he says.
Among Sharp's more interesting findings were those dealing with training materials and flight instructor effectiveness. School leadership found that traditional training materials were completely inadequate for their needs, which is full-time intensive training. So they have begun developing their own materials. They currently have 46 pieces. For example, instead of a full book of the federal aviation regulations, they took only the regulations applicable to private pilots, stripped out the legal language, and listed them in a spiral binder.
Sharp spent a major portion of his time talking about flight instructors and how they integrate into the training program. “Flight instructors do some things really well,” he said. “But as humans they do some things really poorly.” To that end, the Skyport hopes to expand the simulator's ability to manage tasks such as repetitive practice, freeing up instructors to manage what they do best.
For those CFIs who make the cut at the Skyport, they are given a salary and healthcare. “It's worked great,” Sharp said.
In true laboratory format, not all assumptions are proven true. Sharp said he thought if they were successful, they would have a 100 percent retention rate. “It was a bad assumption,” he said. Like any school, they found they had some students who couldn't keep up with the schedule, some who were disruptive, and some with medical issues.
Sharp said a common criticism is that they are training to fly by gauges, and ignoring the important stick-and-rudder skills. He answers the charges by describing the simulator's ability to turn off the primary and multifunction displays and fly visually only, which they do with all students.
The second day of the conference featured a number of breakout sessions, part of which were used to solicit ideas from the participants on what they want to see studied at the Skyport.
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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