By Jim Pitman
One way to help more people become pilots is to improve flight training efficiency and reduce training costs. Utilizing both FAA-approved training devices and non-FAA-approved desktop computer simulators is an effective way to do this.
While there is still no adequate substitute for certain in-flight maneuvers and stick and rudder experience, the value of quality simulation in flight training is undeniable.
Jeff Fouche is the chief flight instructor and co-owner at Latitude Aviation, a successful three-time AOPA Flight Training Experience Award-winning flight school that conducts primary and advanced training at Coeur d'Alene Airport—Pappy Boyington Field (COE) in Hayden, Idaho.
One of the elements that makes Latitude Aviation unique is the way the flight school uses its Precision Flight Controls DCX-MAX AATD. “We recognize that the airplane is a poor classroom. It’s noisy, bumpy, distracting, and intense. While overcoming these challenges is part of the learning experience, it’s more effective for pilots to learn the basics in the simulator to ensure the proper foundation is set before practicing in the airplane. We always introduce new concepts in the sim; from fundamental attitude flying all the way up to XC navigation,” Fouche said.
“It’s really all about risk management. We use the sim to mitigate myriad risks and considerations related to teaching pilots at all levels,” Fouche said. “For example, a client's first cross-country flight is usually done in the sim at our school. This allows us to practice pilotage, navigation with and without GPS, progress tracking, radio communication, use of the tablet, workload management, and in-flight decision-making related to such things as deteriorating weather, diversions, and arriving at an unfamiliar airport,” he said.
An FAA-approved sim is certainly best for logging purposes. Even though only a few hours can be counted for private pilot certification, pilots who are planning to eventually go on to commercial pilot can log up to 50 hours toward the 250-hour requirement in certain FAA-approved devices when training is conducted with an authorized instructor.
It’s important, however, not to get stuck on the maximum sim time allowances that are authorized by the FAA for pilot certification. If your average private pilot applicant is currently doing 70 hours of training in an airplane, it’s much more efficient and cost-effective for both the applicant and the flight school to do the required 40 hours in an airplane and 15 to 20 hours in a flight simulator.
Whether or not your flight school currently has an FAA-approved training device, you may want to consider putting together one or more desktop computer-based sims to use for training. Laminar Technology is leading the way with its high-quality X-Plane platform. The software is less than $65 for personal, but you will need to purchase a license for $750 to utilize X-Plane for commercial purposes.
A new, high-performance desktop system complete with yoke, rudder pedals, and throttle/mixture controls can be put together for $1,350 ($2,100 with the commercial X-Plane license). Should a flight school charge hourly for a sim like this? Absolutely! It’s not FAA-approved, so the time is simply logged as ground training when performed with an instructor and not logged at all when practice is performed without an instructor.
The experience is valuable, and an hourly charge for the sim is certainly appropriate. Customers can be encouraged to set up their own system at home, or you can provide desktop sims at your flight school that are available for rent with or without an instructor. This provides an additional revenue stream for your business while saving your customers time and money.
Consumer-grade virtual reality systems also have a lot of potential for providing significant value to the entire pilot training industry. Here’s an impressive 9-minute demonstration that shows the power of this emerging technology.
As Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) apps such as ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, and FlyQ become more popular, the need to provide proper training for these apps is also growing. Few things are as dangerous as a pilot and flight instructor both looking down at a tablet during flight. Learning and practicing EFB procedures in a sim is the best way to mitigate the risks. The current version of X-Plane makes it easy to connect an iPad or iPhone and Redbird offers a device called the Cygnus for $599 that relays basic GPS data from Redbird sims to iOS devices.
When Fouche realized there was no practical way to connect EFBs to sims like its PFC AATD that runs X-Plane version 9.7, he went to work to create a solution. With his mechanical engineering background and the help of a savvy software engineer, Fouche and his team invented the patent-pending Beelynk, a program that allows any type of phone or tablet (not just iOS) to connect to existing flight training devices that are running X-Plane versions 9.7 and higher.
“Think of Beelynk as ADS-B In for your sim,” Fouche said. “It runs on its own external device and doesn’t alter the functionality of the sim at all, so FAA-approved status is kept completely intact. Beelynk simply reads data from the sim and transmits it to one or more EFBs via your WiFi connection,” he said.
In addition to sharing basic GPS position data with EFBs, Beelynk offers several other unique features that enhance the simulator experience. “Beelynk repairs X-Plane 9's embedded RealWX Download function, and also streams those same METARs and Nexrad images as FIS-B data to connected EFBs. This means the weather the pilot sees in the sim is the same weather showing as current METARs and Nexrad on the EFBs. Adding the PilotEdge service for ATC also enables ADS-B/TIS-B traffic data on connected EFBs and creates an immersive experience that is remarkably realistic,” Fouche said. Additional features are available to Beelynk on X-Plane versions 10 and higher as well.
Fouche and his team have licensed Beelynk, which is now available for sale and commercial use. Individual (non-commercial) licensing will be available soon. Additional information about Beelynk is available online.
Can the increased use of non-FAA approved sims and connected EFBs help your flight school and customers? I encourage you to give it a try and test the results. I also recommend this excellent book by Bruce Williams: Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Connect with Fouche and learn more about Latitude Aviation at its website.
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He currently flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).