Instructor Robert Brooks took his post at the lectern, and Bill and I sat in a sort of small schoolroom arrangement. SimCom believes in small classes and lots of one-on-one attention. Robert turns out to be quite the aviator. How many of us have flown DC-3s and blimps for hire? His e-mail includes the term airship. Though his resume is one you or I would die to call our own, we soon learned that Robert Brooks had more than 1,000 hours in Cheyennes to boot. I was to discover that he knew the airplane intimately and better than either of us. His easy manner momentarily delayed my recognition of his impressive knowledge base and his knack for teaching us things we didn’t know, even though both of us have been operating our turboprops for more than 10 years. How, I wondered, did he know what we didn’t know? He seemed to sense what we already knew and tailored our sim sessions just for us. Pearls before swine, it was a custom fit.
After lunch we got into the simulator. SimCom has purchased FlightSafety’s full-motion sim with which Bill and I are agonizingly familiar, but we wanted to try the full-visual simulator for which SimCom is famous. Sure enough, the graphics were astounding, and we both commented later that the augmented visuals made the simulator as realistic as the one that moved on those complicated hydraulics — maybe more so. It felt like a motion simulator to us.
We wanted to do our engine-out work at Bill’s home base, KLEB, where there is mountainous terrain in all quadrants. Robert was able to dial up a pretty reasonable facsimile of Runway 18, except the tower was in the wrong place. “No problem,” he said, as he switched it to the other side of the runway. The exercise of taking off on 18 and losing an engine at gross on a warm day was a thrilling experience — one I hope to limit to the simulator. The terrain warnings added additional realism as I coaxed the wounded ship over the crest of the mountain ahead and staggered along the downwind in order to land back on the runway we had left just a few perspiring minutes earlier.
We explored several approaches that were new to us. Eagle, Colorado, (KEGE) in the Rocky Mountains gave us a chance to practice an approach that is infamous among pilots. When we broke out at minimums, Robert said, “You’ve got to really push the nose over.”
I didn’t really understand what he meant. All I could see was mountains and snow, but when I followed his instruction I discovered the runway way below us. The approach is so steep that I would have been seriously pressed to get us down in time. In many ways this was our best training experience in years. Everything, except the airplane, was new to us. The venue, the people, the visuals and the hotel made for a first-class triad of days.
SimCom started in 1990. When I asked the founder and CEO, Wally (not Larry) David, why he decided to take on the goliaths of simulator training, he quipped, “I needed a job and I didn’t want to work for somebody else.”
Kidding aside, the outfit started with a Cessna 421C sim and soon added a Navajo. No doubt you’ve seen ads with astronaut Gene Cernan in the foreground and a 421 cockpit in the background in Flying. Today they have 24 sims in the Orlando facility in which I trained, ranging from the visual motion Baron to the Level C machines that reproduce the Learjet, Hawker, Cessna CJ and Citation 500/550 with real-life fidelity. Down the road at Orlando Parksouth reside nine full-motion Level C and D business jet and regional turboprop simulators. There are 14 sims in Dallas and six in Scottsdale, Arizona, not to mention a Jetstream 41 simulator in Humberside, United Kingdom, for European regionals.
Bob Kromer, director of marketing, told me that SimCom trains pilots from the Cessna 210 up to the Dornier 328 jet. “We love owner operators. Our sweet spot is in piston twins, single- and twin-engine turboprops and the light jets operated by pilots who own them. But we have moved into medium jets with the same personal approach we apply to our owner/operators. Corporate pilots respond to this atmosphere, just like guys like you.”
He went on to say that SimCom conducts factory authorized training for pilots buying new Pilatus, Piper, TBM and Eclipse airplanes.
I now have a perfect training lineup: Cheyenne training with Bill at SimCom and recurrent Learjet training with my friends at FlightSafety in Atlanta. This annual rotation is a way for a recreational pilot like me to stay in the game with the professionals. SimCom met our anxieties about the closure of the Lakeland facility with a wonderful experience.
As for Bill, though I haven’t seen him since our training, I have heard him entering the hold in New Hampshire and talked to him on the ground. He’s a good friend made late in life, and those are hard to find. I can now say the same about SimCom.