By Jim Pitman
Flipping the classroom is a reference to the concept of using technology to deliver information to students outside the classroom, thereby freeing class time to be used for higher-level skills such as collaborative discovery and problem-solving. In flight training, we have been blessed with effective home study programs from multiple vendors for many years. These home study courses are a great way for pilots to obtain required knowledge on their own schedule, allowing instructors to focus on application and correlation during dual ground instruction.
What about flight instruction? Is there an effective way for student pilots to utilize technology to learn basic flying skills before meeting with the flight instructor? Could this help with the current flight instructor shortage? TakeFlight Interactive, a 4-year-old company based in Seattle, Washington, believes the answer to each of these questions is an emphatic “Yes!”
TakeFlight Interactive provides software that operates in conjunction with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (Steam Edition) or Lockheed Martin's Prepar3d with the A2A Simulations C172 add-on. TakeFlight Interactive’s software acts as a virtual flight instructor, allowing student pilots to learn and practice flying skills at home. The TakeFlight Interactive website shows the example of how students learn steep turns with the “Brief it, Learn it, Score it, Repeat it,” building-block method of teaching. This video also shows the system in action.
Brandon Seltz is the founder and chief executive officer of TakeFlight Interactive. He said, “Cost-effective hardware and software have advanced to the point that we can do this in a way that makes sense and we’re excited for what it means to the flight training community.”
TakeFlight Interactive currently has the first two stages of training available for purchase at the early access price of $60 for both. “Imagine your flight students being able to learn each maneuver at home, to ACS standards, before even meeting with his/her flight instructor,” Seltz said.
The first stage teaches the fundamentals of flying in seven lessons and the second stage takes student pilots all the way to solo with six additional lessons that cover crosswind takeoffs and landings, traffic pattern procedures, steep turns, and abnormal/emergency procedures. Seltz and his team are developing lessons for the remainder of the private pilot training.
“Our system is much more than just a computer telling the students when they are high, low, fast, or slow. We have developed complex algorithms that monitor all aspects of the flights, including whether or not the pilot is making corrections in a timely manner. The automated instructor responds appropriately, providing feedback just as a real flight instructor would,” Seltz said.
Each lesson includes three scenarios: training, evaluation, and challenge. “The training scenario introduces the new material and provides instruction with specific feedback. The evaluation scenario allows the student to practice the specific items being taught without feedback while being scored by the system. And the challenge scenario provides additional practice and scoring in a fun and game-like manner that keeps the user engaged,” Seltz said.
Students can print/send a log of each lesson to share their progress with their instructors and prove they are ready to fly the lesson in the airplane. Future versions will allow instructors to login to a secure portal and monitor student performance online.
To help with development, TakeFlight Interactive has partnered with Rainier Flight Service at Renton Municipal Airport (RNT) in Renton, Washington. Rainier Flight Service consultant and flight instructor Mark Thompson shared, “Brandon and his team have truly created something special. It’s been fun working with them and providing real-world feedback to help improve their software. The game design philosophy makes it fun for students to use and we know the maneuvers and techniques are being taught in a consistent, standardized manner. Starting with a new student who has completed the first two stages on TakeFlight Interactive is like getting in the airplane with someone who already has three to four hours of quality flight instruction, but we didn’t have to spend our time doing it. That’s like adding 20 percent more instructors to your team!”
Utilizing this system can save customers time and money. Rainier Flight Service conducts a solo camp each summer in which the flight school trains four to five new students to go from zero to solo in just two weeks. “Since introducing our system, we have helped Rainier reduce the average flight time to solo from 25 down to only 15 flight hours. That represents a significant cost savings for the students and better use of the flight instructors’ time,” Seltz said.
Customers are encouraged to set up their own computer-based sim to practice at home, but other options may be more feasible for your customers. “Here at Rainier Flight Service, we set up a PC-based simulator with the TakeFlight Interactive software at our school. Customers are allowed to schedule time in that sim on a first-come, first-serve basis free of charge,” Thompson said.
The overall training philosophy is to learn on the ground via simulation and then validate the training in the airplane. “Our vision for the future of flight training is that each student will first learn every lesson in a self-study environment and then get with the flight instructor in an airplane to demonstrate what he/she has learned. Time in the airplane should be comparable to the way airlines conduct Line Oriented Flight Training [LOFT] sessions. It’s all about operating at the correlative level of learning with real-life scenarios. With the technology now available, there's no reason instructors should be spending their time flying back and forth to and from the practice area teaching basic flight maneuvers,” Seltz said.
At a time when flight instructors are in high demand, it’s more important than ever to be as efficient as possible with instructors’ time. Systems like TakeFlight Interactive can help to “flip the flight school” by moving more of the primary instruction off-campus. Done properly, this will significantly decrease customer costs and improve standardization and quality of training, while increasing instructor efficiency.
Learn more about TakeFlight Interactive on its website.
Learn more about Rainier Flight Service on 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 working as a freelance flight instructor and Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) for the FAA. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).