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Flight simulation innovator Rudy Frasca dies

Patriarch of family-run business with global reach remembered as a 'pioneer'

Frasca International announced May 11 that founder, pilot, researcher, and flight simulation engineer Rudy Frasca has died.

  • Rudy Frasca designed the Model 100 flight simulator and personally installed the unit at flight schools and colleges. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • Rudy Frasca stands by the silver Model 101 that he designed after studying aviation psychology. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • Frasca International products include the sleek Model 210 of the 1980s which is reminiscent of a DeLorean automobile mated to a Star Trek switching console, Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • A Bell helicopter B206 flight training device rides on air to simulate rotor wing maneuvers. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • A Bell helicopter B206 flight training device rides on air to simulate rotor wing maneuvers. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • A Cirrus SR20 flight simulation device features a full digital panel. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • A Diamond DA42 simulator mimics the real thing, down to its center control sticks, leather seats, and twin flight displays. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.
  • Frasca International uses a vertical approach to building its flight training devices and flight simulators, including in-house electrical, mechanical, aeronautical, software, and graphics engineering skills. Photo courtesy of Frasca International.

“He was a true aviation pioneer and avid pilot. He will be greatly missed,” the company posted in a brief social media tribute to the 89-year-old who was born in Chicago on April 19, 1931.

The Illinois innovator was fresh out of the U.S. Navy when he built his first flight simulator in the family garage in 1958. 

In the six decades that followed, the family-run company grew into a global flight training device powerhouse with clients in the United States, Australia, China, Germany, Japan, and elsewhere.

Frasca was inducted into the National Association of Flight Instructors Hall of Fame in 2012 by the association’s founder Jack Eggspuehler and Sporty’s Pilot Shop founder and lifelong friend Hal Shevers.

“Hal and Rudy were longtime friends, and I know he thought the world of him,” said John Zimmerman, Sporty’s catalog division vice president.

The flight simulator manufacturer’s general aviation roots began with the Model 100, an analog device that combined Frasca’s aviation psychology background with engineering concepts that maximized learning.

He made personal visits to install that model and its coffin-shaped Model 101 successor at local flight schools and colleges with aviation training programs. The strategy helped establish Frasca’s reputation for customer service, quality, and innovation.

Flight schools, aviation colleges, the military, and commercial training needs are still serviced by in-house electrical, mechanical, aeronautical, software, and graphics engineering specialists while family members direct the company’s operations.

Simulated aircraft range from the popular Cessna 172 Skyhawk single-engine trainer to the Boeing 737 transport category jetliners. The range of technology includes stationary flight training devices, full-motion devices, and purpose-built military simulators for the United States, Mexico, and other armed forces. The cost for a multipurpose GA simulator can begin at around $50,000 and “highly customized FAA Level B-D Full Flight Simulators” can cost $5 million to $15 million, the company wrote in a recent blog.

Some of the company’s more recent innovations are lower-cost Bell 206, 412, and 407; Robinson R44; or Airbus A350 helicopter training devices outfitted with analog or digital instrumentation, which are critical to training aeromedical first responders.

The firm has a strong presence in colleges and universities, including U.S. institutions Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Liberty University, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of North Dakota, and many more operating stateside and overseas.

Commercial customers include American Flyers, Bell, Bristow Helicopters, CAE, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Era Training Center, Delta Connection, Global Medical Response, SimCom Aviation Training, and others.

Frasca, who raised eight children, also owned and operated a handful of unique and antique aircraft over the years, including a Curtiss P–40, a Supermarine Spitfire, a Grumman Wildcat, a North American SNJ, a Beechcraft T–34, a Fiat, and a replica of a Mitsubishi Zero. “He loved all airplanes but had a special place in his heart for his Piper Cub,” wrote Marketing Manager Peggy Frasca Pritchard. “His love of grassroots aviation and passion for flying fueled the growth and success of his simulation company.”

In his flying days, the patriarch was active in many aviation organizations and loaned several of his aircraft to the EAA museum so that the public can enjoy them.

A 2018 article highlighting the company’s sixtieth anniversary noted that more than 2,700 devices had been delivered to 70 countries.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: People, Training and Safety, Advanced Training

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