At Seattle Museum of Flight, students become pilots

March 20, 2014

The Seattle Museum of Flight recently opened a refurbished Aviation Learning Center with a simulator room featuring 10 AOPA Jays by Redbird. Photo by Brandon Seltz.What would it be like to fly?

The Seattle Museum of Flight poses that question to thousands of fourth through twelfth grade students each month, then answers it by giving them an exhilarating, realistic aviation experience designed to "inspire the flier in all of us."

And because no flying experience “is quite as personal as general aviation,” a simulated flight in an AOPA Jay by Redbird is the capstone of a program during which students walk in a pilot’s shoes on their visit to the museum’s Aviation Learning Center.

Any pilot in training would find the day’s lesson plan familiar: Start with some ground school review of basic principles. Follow up with flight planning. Preflight the aircraft—a Cirrus SR20—then launch on a simulated familiarization flight to a nearby airport and back to the home base, Seattle’s Boeing Field/King County International Airport.

It doesn’t take long for the young aviators to forget that all of it is taking place in three basement rooms of the Seattle Museum of Flight, where the refurbished Aviation Learning Center reopened in February.

And it isn’t difficult to gauge the effect of some cockpit time on the young visitors, says Rick Hardin, the Aviation Learning Center project manager.

"They are totally jazzed when they come out of the simulator room. They are just walking on air," he said.

In February, the Aviation Learning Center celebrated the reopening of the simulator room, newly outfitted with 10 Jays by Redbird, on which students, in teams of two, launch on their learning flights.

Flying a scenario that Redbird has programmed into the Jays, the young pilots depart from Boeing Field in a Cirrus SR20 to Snohomish County Paine Field in Everett, Wash., at the northern boundary of Seattle’s Class B airspace. There the students switch seats for the return flight. An instructor at a control panel can play the role of air traffic control and communicate with each of the flight crews as necessary to keep them on course (or focused on their task).

The Seattle Museum of Flight recently opened a refurbished Aviation Learning Center with a simulator room featuring 10 AOPA Jays by Redbird. Photo by Brandon Seltz.The flight experience is presented to the students at levels of complexity tailored to their grade. Flight parameters are flexible; Aviation Learning Center staff can serve up day or night flights and a variety of weather conditions.

Conducting the Jay flights in the Cirrus SR20 is the natural follow-up after the students have preflighted the SR20 on display at the Aviation Learning Center’s hangar. Approximately 4,000 to 4,400 students per month pass through the Learning Center, said Hardin.

Aviation has always made a strong impression, but Hardin expects aviation’s inspirational impact to soar now that the sim room is outfitted with the "so much more realistic" Jays.

In February, Redbird Chairman and former AOPA President Craig Fuller attended a reception and ribbon-cutting for the Learning Center’s reopening, and  expressed his admiration for what he saw.

"There could not be a better example of how the AOPA Jay can build enthusiasm for general aviation," he said.

Recognizing that no glimpse into the life of a pilot is complete without a demonstration of the sheer, liberating joy of flying, Hardin noted that if there is any free time remaining after the students complete their introductory flights, they can spend it exploring the Jay’s "freewheeling mode."

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.