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AirVenture's Pilot Proficiency Center is the real dealAirVenture's Pilot Proficiency Center is the real deal

A steady stream of pilots filled a darkened room packed wall to wall with Redbird flight simulators as two dozen hands deftly guided airplanes along realistic flight paths. Twelve pairs of eyes darted across instrument panels aglow with flight instrumentation, radio frequencies, and maps. Instructors at EAA AirVenture’s popular Pilot Proficiency Center (PPC) mentored their VFR and IFR students through 32 challenging scenarios. Some students sweated more than others, powering through unexpected but realistic flight emergencies.
Flight instructor Jason Archer prepares a Redbird MCX full-motion simulator in the popular Pilot Proficiency Center during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s free proficiency center experienced steady traffic pouring through its door as pilots chose to sharpen their skills on the sims or participate in nearly 30 Tech Talks as varied as backcountry approaches, chart clinics, and “Weather for Dummies.”

“This morning we had 31 pilots waiting in line when we opened the doors,” said Brian Bishop, who was manning the PPC one afternoon while pilots scrambled to fill out their reservation forms for the next day’s training sessions. Bishop said the center was so popular that within an hour of each day’s 9 a.m. opening time, all of the simulators, including two MCX full-motion devices, were completely booked until 3 p.m.

Flight instructor Jason Archer supervises pilots and other instructors at EAA AirVenture's popular Pilot Proficiency Center. Photo by David Tulis.

In the simulator room, pilots had a full smorgasbord to choose from. They could battle Redbird’s Winging It video host Brittany Miculka, who showed her skill at navigating Washington, D.C.’s complicated airspace for an imaginary photo flight, or they could take on the aptly named SID Vicious IFR departure procedures out of Teterboro, New Jersey. The PPC preparation sheets called the departure “the single most violated SID in the country.”

National Association of Flight Instructors and Society of Aviation and Flight Educators members coached and debriefed participants whether they were interested in challenging themselves or just maintaining currency.

“This is my favorite thing to do in the whole show,” said instrument-rated pilot Larry Overstreet. “Every year it gets better.”

Private pilot Christine Oksas helps EAA AirVenture attendees at the Pilot Proficiency Center in Oshkosh July 29. Photo by David Tulis.

He complimented EAA and its pilot proficiency center partners AOPA, Jeppesen, and Hartzell Propeller, for making his life easier.

“If I can get six approaches and a hold in and push the calendar out, that’s great,” said the Milwaukee-based pilot who added that the price was right, too. The PPC was free to EAA attendees.

Instructor Jason Archer was a beehive of activity as he ushered a flatlander VFR student into a full-motion device for a taste of life in the high mountains of Idaho.

“You take someone, put them into a simulator and then they’re a kid again,” he said as he flipped a couple of switches to produce a short, grass strip bordered by menacing terrain at a high elevation on a high-density-altitude day.

The East Coaster handled the runup and taxi to the simulated backcountry airstrip adequately but not expertly, and adjusting the mixture to a best-power setting two finger-widths out from full-rich earned a nod of approval from Archer.

Pilots watch a Tech Talk presentation at EAA AirVenture's Pilot Proficiency Center. Jack Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman, said the association met its goal of 5,000 pilots passing through the learning facility. Photo by David Tulis.

However, choosing 20 degrees of flaps and full back pressure, a scenario familiar to student pilots simulating short takeoffs from asphalt runways, simply did not work. The Cessna 172 waddled down the airfield like a lost duck, and the Lycoming struggled for airspeed and altitude.

“Don’t stop flying now,” Archer implored as large rocks depicting the end of Runway 17/35 loomed in the windscreen, “take it all the way through the crash.” Archer’s advice was on the money as the little Cessna leapt over the obstacle before settling into a forested creek bed that would have severely damaged the real thing.

“OK, let’s try it again,” said Archer, a CFI in Connecticut. “But this time, no flaps, gentle back pressure and get flying. Build airspeed in ground effect, and then see what you can do,” he coached.

Sure enough, the 172 lifted off at midfield from Johnson Creek Airport’s turf runway while the simulator rocked and rolled through a narrow valley that tested airmanship in a setting realistic enough to be remembered for a lifetime.

The Pilot Proficiency Center was a popular stop during EAA AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Photo by David Tulis.

Archer said pushing pilots to their limits in a simulated environment, along with good coaching and the time to adequately explain procedures, increases their confidence, situational awareness, and aircraft management.

The popularity of the proficiency center’s one-on-one sim-based flight instruction and its technical talks was satisfying to Jack Pelton, EAA’s CEO and chairman. He said the PPC was a “cornerstone activity” for the association and hinted at its improvement for future AirVentures. Pelton said, “Our goal was to have 5,000 through the center,” and the Tech Talks were sellout crowds, “so I think we are onto something.”

As flight instructor Archer hurried from station to station helping pilots with spec sheets, charts, and approach plates he explained the program’s appeal. “I ask them, ‘What did you learn and how can we do it better?’ because we’re not all perfect. Now you’ve got a deeper understanding and you’ve been challenged, too. And besides, where else can you land on an aircraft carrier?”

A pilot waits near Tech Talk posters in the Pilot Proficiency Center during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Experimental Aircraft Association, EAA AirVenture, Pilot Training and Certification

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