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Aircraft Spotlight: Simulator Comparison GuideAircraft Spotlight: Simulator Comparison Guide

The Aircraft Spotlight feature normally looks at an airplane type and evaluates it across six areas of particular interest to flying clubs and their members: Operating Cost, Maintenance, Insurability, Training, Cross-Country, and Fun Factor. This month we are doing something a bit different.

Instead of highlighting one aircraft, we will provide some basic information about simulators that a club may operate and briefly describe models from five companies: Alsim Flight Training Solutions, Frasca International, one-G Simulation, Redbird Flight, and FlyThisSim. David Rider, Vice President of One-G Simulators based in Seattle provided a general overview.

Simulator Basics

There are several categories of simulator, from simple desktop computer models to more advanced FAA-approved simulators that can be used to log flight training hours. Most clubs with an FAA-approved simulator will either have a Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) or Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD). The typical Full Flight Simulators (FFS) that provide three-axis movement are wonderful machines, but are likely out of the price range for most clubs.

FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136B, which was issued on September 12, 2008, provides guidance on Aviation Training Devices (ATDs) and the FAA’s approved use of BATDs and AATDs for training under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61, § 61.4(c). The more advanced Full Flight Simulators (FFS) and Flight Training Devices (FTD) are regulated under 14 CFR part 60, and are not covered in AC 61-136B.

Pilots training for an instrument rating may log up to 20 hours in an approved ATD. A maximum of 10 hours can be logged in a BATD and a maximum of 20 hours in an AATD.  If a pilot is using a mix of both, the maximum combined total is 20 hours.

The main differences between a BATD and an AATD is that an AATD must meet higher specifications of flight performance based on the specific aircraft model and it must have an instructor’s station. The instructor’s station is optional on a BATD, although many do have them.

Keys for Successful Operation

David Rider, Vice President of one-G Simulation, said most clubs that successfully operate simulators have four things. First is dedicated climate-controlled space for the simulator. If your club does not have it’s own space, consider partnering with a local FBO or flight school to either rent space or possibly work a deal where they provide the space and you provide a certain amount of access to the simulator.

Second, most clubs with simulators have what David calls a “simulator champion” – someone who is going to be the administrator/caretaker of the device. Next, it also helps to have a club where instruction is going on – particularly members working on IFR ratings or who are already instrument qualified and are looking to stay current. This helps ensure consistent use of the simulator. And lastly, having an easy and effective financial structure to bill members is important.

Here are some simulators that clubs may consider.

Alsim

Alsim Flight Training Solutions is a French simulator company that has been producing FAA and EASA-certified simulators since 1994. It has offices in Austin, Texas and Shanghai and has installed more than 350 devices worldwide to more than 250 customers.

It manufactures both generic and type specific units and provide “an experience,” Alsim U.S. Marketing and Communications Manager Elise Peterson said. The sim that is most suited for flying clubs is the AL250. It is a reconfigurable fully enclosed simulator that can be used to train students how to fly a class of aircraft like single engine piston close to a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, Piper PA28R Arrow or multiengine piston close to a Piper PA-44 Seminole. 

Called the AL250 because it has industry leading, 250 degree visuals, it can quickly switch between analogue and glass, and aircraft flight models, and has real Garmin GTN650. The AL250 starts at $150,000. While the price may steep for some clubs, consider it an investment like purchasing an aircraft. Elise said the quality and durability of Alsim’s products provide an excellent return on investment.

“Some of our clients use their simulator for thousands of hours and have had our devices installed for years,” she said. “Due to the immersion and high fidelity simulator environment, our clients see their students absorbing concepts faster, which leads to less hours in the actual aircraft, saving both the flight school and students money.”  

Alsim also makes simulators specific to actual aircraft – the AL172, which replicates a Cessna 172 and the AL42, which replicates a Diamond 42. Both are impressive machines that provide “ramp appeal,” particularly the AL42, but also provide operators a realistic training environment. While they may be more expensive, “they are literally an exact replica with Garmin G1000 NXI” Elise said.

All Alsim units have high definition displays that offer realistic weather rendering and feature a wide panoramic field of view. The simulators offer a built-in instructor’s station with a touch screen monitor, desk and chair. Options include a second touch screen and upset recovery scenarios.

Frasca

Frasca International has been in the flight simulator business for more than 60 years. Founded in 1958 by former Naval flight instructor Rudy Frasca, who taught on early Link trainers, the company makes a variety of simulators from the multi-million dollar Full Flight Simulators (FFS) to aircraft specific AATD simulators ranging from Beechcraft twins to a Zlin.

While most of the simulators are designed for higher-end aircraft (like turboprops and corporate jets), Frasca does make simulators for types often found in flying clubs, such as a Cessna 172, Cirrus SR20 and SR22, Diamond DA40 and DA42, and the Piper Archer, Warrior, Seminole and Seneca. These are fully enclosed replicas with instructor stations, similar to ALSims products.

Frasca also offers a Reconfigurable Training Device, the Frasca RTD, for $58,000. The AATD is designed to be configured for the aircraft your club has – whether it’s a single, like a 172, or a twin, such as Piper Seminole. The panel offers realistic avionics and can be outfitted with steam gauges or a glass. The RTD can operate with a single large screen or three wrap-around screens.

The company also offers the Cessna 172 Mentor AATD. It is similar to the RTD in that it is not enclosed, has realistic avionics and can be outfitted with either a single screen or three wrap-around screens. It features genuine avionics – either the Garmin G1000 or Avidyne Entegra with integrated autopilot. It uses an updatable Jeppesen database that matches current charts, has optional automated ATIS, automated lesson plans, ATC, and air traffic.

One-G

Seattle-based one-G Simulation was founded in 2011 with the goal “to improve access to approved good quality flight training to improve safety,” Vice President David Rider said. What makes it different from the other Simulator companies is its Access Program, which is a pay-per-use model.

The way it works is the customer goes through a qualification process and if it looks like a good fit, the customer pays the crating and freight costs and then club members would pay an hourly fee to use the simulator. Shipping costs from Seattle range from $750 to California to about $1,500 to the east coast.

The cost is $55 per hour for the first 20 hours of use each month. If a club logged 21 to 30 hours, the cost per hour would drop to $49 per hour for all the hours used, not just the additional hours. For each additional 10 hours of sim time, the price drops slightly. On the last day of the month, one-G sends an invoice to the club for payment. The club would be responsible for billing individual members just as they do for flight time in an aircraft.

There are two FAA-certified AATD simulators available as part of the Access Program – the Foundation with a six-pack of round gauges and the Garmin GTN 650; or the Foundation 1000 with the G1000 panel. The units are not interchangeable. “We found after years of market research from our customers that the variability among aircraft was not as important as something that was easy to use, durable, and always worked,” David said. The units can be set up with a single screen, or a three-screen wrap around view.

The simulator is a plug and fly device. When the crate arrives, all the club has to do is “disassemble three sides and the top and the sim rolls right out of the crate. They plug it into an Ethernet port, they plug it into a standard outlet, they fire the thing up and away they go,” David said. The company offers support by phone or online to get instructors and administrators trained.

Users have individual accounts that they sign in with by using their email. The device records the time like a Hobbs meter and the record is kept in a log, so at the end of the month there is a tally of the number of sessions and time.

If a customer wants a higher end, enclosed simulator that more truly replicates certain aircraft, one-G makes fixed-wing models for the Beech Bonanza and Baron; Socata TBM 700; and the Pilatus PC12. These simulators are not available as part of the Access Program.

Redbird

Redbird Flight is the largest and probably best known General Aviation simulator company out there. Founded in 2006 with the goal of making it easier for people to become pilots through the use of technology, the company offers a diverse product line. It  ranges from a desktop simulator designed for home use, the Jay, to several large full motion simulators. Based in Texas, Redbird has placed about 2,300 training devices in 30 countries, which includes everything from the desktop Jays to larger full motion sims.

Josh Harnagel, Vice President of Marketing, said when clubs are looking to add a simulator the first question to ask is what is the purpose. Do members want to log time for training or is the simulator going to be used primarily for proficiency and building community?

If the sim is going to be used for training, Redbird offers two models that clubs might be interested in – the TD/TD2 or the LD. The TD is a desktop simulator and costs $6,995. The TD2 is a more advanced version of the TD that allows for any combination of retractable gear, complex, or high performance and costs $7,995. Both are BATDs that provide a generic panel, but Josh said they are basically a Cessna 172/182 configuration. They are available with either a six-pack of round gauges or a G1000 panel.

For something a bit more robust, Redbird offers the LD, which is an AATD. It is about the size of a cubicle, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and offers wrap around visuals, realistic flight controls and about 40 different interchangeable cockpits including Cessnas, Pipers, Cirrus, and twins. The base price is $32,800 and each additional configuration costs between $4,500 and $6,500.

“If the flying club has a variation of fleet – different types, different avionics – and you have a larger club base, and offer training or recurrent training, [the LD] could be a really nice fit in that environment,” Josh said.

If logging time is not a priority, the most affordable simulator that Redbird offers is the Jay for $2,595. The Jay Velocity, which costs $3,995, is a more robust version designed for use in demanding environments like high schools and museums.

These plug and fly desktop models come with a yoke, throttle, the computer, and a large screen and can be set up in a few minutes. Rudder pedals can be added for $549. The Jay is not FAA certified, therefore it’s not locked into a strict protocol or requirements like a BATD or an AATD. Clubs could use it to set up specific flight scenarios, so it can be a great tool to enhance safety meetings.

“Another advantage of the Jay is you can load all kinds of additional software on it because it’s not FAA certified,” Josh said. “You can load a Learjet on it, and a Baron, or a 172, and an Extra and fly all of those on the same device.” He pointed out it isn’t going to be as accurate as on a larger sim, but the greater variety of aircraft and type of flying that is possible provides members a tool to have some fun and different experiences, as well as work on safety and proficiency.

Redbird also offers flight training content called GIFT – Guided Independent Flight Training – that has 33 lesson modules with specific skills or maneuvers from taxiing to take off and landing, steep turns and cross country flights. It is designed for private pilot students to enhance their training with a simulator. The cost is $249.

FlyThisSim TouchTrainers

On the other end of the spectrum, FlyThisSim TouchTrainers offers five BATD devices that are all touchscreens and completely interchangeable with a wide variety of aircraft types to choose from.

The California-based company has three desktop simulators that range in price starting at $5,400 for the TouchTrainer SD, which is a single screen unit and can be replicate 45 aircraft specific cockpits and panels, including Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, and Diamond.

The TouchTrainer VX is a desktop model offerering three wide screens and  starts at $8,100. And what might be the most impressive desktop simulator on the market, the $12,500 TouchTrainner VM features three 55-inch tall wrap-around displays. Both the VX and VM replicate 125 aircraft specific cockpits and panels including Mooney, Piper, and Rockwell in addition to the types already mentioned.

The advantage of these more than four-and-half foot tall wrap-around screens is that it provides the pilot a sense of motion when banking and climbing even though the device itself is stationary – something that can’t be achieved with a traditional monitor.

All three desktop models come complete with yoke or sidestick, throttle quadrant, and rudder pedals. Additional software to change aircraft configuration sells for $800 at the time of initial purchase or $950 if it is added on later. Any of the units can be flown as a single or a twin as long as you have the correct software and throttle quadrant.

Skyhaven Flying Club operates a FlyThisSim TouchTrainer and has controls for both a Cessna 172 and Cirrus SR20, which are the two types of planes the club operates (See this month’s Club Spotlight). They found the simulator a very useful tool in transition training from the Cessna to the Cirrus, particularly because the Cirrus relies so much on checklists and systems.

If your club is looking for a more robust simulator, FlyThisSim offers the single seat floor mounted FM 100, which starts at $18,500, or the side-by-side dual cockpit FM 210 for $35,000. Both FM simulators feature 60-inch (5-foot) wrap-around screens. The FM 100 has three screens, the FM 210 has six. Both offer the full 125 aircraft specific cockpits and panels.

 

 

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