Aviation Simulator To Land in Cal Poly Humboldt Library

Cal Poly Humboldt takes first steps toward establishing an aviation program.

Cal Poly Humboldt’s scratch-built flight simulator was built by the campus gaming club and is now operated by the aviation club. [Courtesy: Cal Poly Humboldt]

What do you expect to find inside the library at a university? Reference materials and students studying? You are likely to find that, and if the library in question is on the campus of Cal Polytechnic Humboldt, by next fall, you may be able to find an FAA-approved Advanced Aviation Training Device—despite the fact the school does not have an aviation program yet.

Cal Poly Humboldt is located in Arcata, California. It is the most northern campus in the California State University system. Full disclosure: I am a graduate of Humboldt. Both my writing and aviation careers began as passions at Humboldt. I consider myself very blessed that I was able to turn them into careers. Imagine how excited I was when I had the opportunity to help the next generation discover the joy of aviation.

It began with a series of fortunate events, starting in February 2022 with a piece written for Black History Month about Cal Poly Humboldt President Tom Jackson Jr., a private pilot and the first African American to serve as the president of the university. The piece focused on how pilots take lessons learned in the cockpit and apply them in the corporate world. Jackson joined Humboldt in 2019 and is an active pilot. He grew up in Seattle, where I am based now and we talked about local aviation. Part of the discussion included the challenges of flying in Humboldt County where fog is the norm, and there is a lack of infrastructure for general aviation in the economically challenged area.

President Jackson mentioned the university now had an aviation club and put me in touch with the club advisor, a math professor named David Marshall, who is also a private pilot. Marshall told me about a scratch-built flight simulator that had been built by the campus gaming club and was now operated by the aviation club. It is located on the second floor of the library in an open space made possible by the digitization of materials over the decades. The gaming sim is located in a space marked off with whiteboards. There are aviation posters on the boards, and there is a classroom-sized E6-B flight computer on display, along with posters containing the instructions for operating the sim. The gaming sim consists of a non-moving platform and a bank of wrap-around screens. The cockpit is part computer generated, part toggle switch, part knobs.

I had a chance to try it out in February when I was on campus for a visit, and quite frankly, if it had been there when I was going to school, I am not sure if I would have made it to all my classes.

Although the gaming sim is a great tool for generating interest in aviation, it doesn't operate at the level of an FAA-approved Advanced Aviation Training Device. AATDs are often used when the weather is too poor to fly, or to teach procedures that can accelerate the learning process in the airplane. Professor Marshall mentioned that he had been exploring the idea of getting an FAA-approved device for the university. I have been using AATDs since my student pilot days and know their value—I interpreted his remark as the Gauntlet of Challenge being thrown down.

A Plan Comes Together

Last spring, I wrote a piece about the use of simulation technology to accelerate the aviation learning process. Representatives of several AATD manufacturers were interviewed—one of them was Mike Altman, president of Precision Flight Controls, Inc. Altman mentioned his company, which makes many AATDs was about to take a trade-in on a GTX MAX Cessna AATD. Altman, an accomplished pilot and instructor, mentioned the unit would be refurbished in-house, then a new home would be found for it. I told him about the situation at CP Humboldt and put him in touch with professor Marshall.

The stars have aligned. As I write this, the GTX MAX is in the process of being refurbished, and soon will be installed in the library at Cal Poly Humboldt. This is a professional-grade device found at FBOs, not a desktop model. The device measures 95 inches wide, 80 inches long, and 70 inches high. The cabin is partially enclosed to provide a cockpit experience.

According to Altman, the GTX MAX has "pitch, roll, heave and yaw effect" and can be configured as either a Cessna 172 or a Cessna 182. The precision flight controls (PFC) device uses X-plane software. The unit comes with a separate instructor operating station. PFC will provide operational checklists.

In the meantime, the aviation club and campus officials are raising money for the Library Aviation Fund. The goal is $5,000, which will be used to employ flight simulator student assistants and to maintain the AATD.

18-year-old Harmony Switzer-Tryon, the president of the aviation club, is excited about the installation. Her father was a private pilot and she often flew with him when she was a child.

"I really hope it inspires people to pursue aviation as an interest or maybe even as a career," she told FLYING. "The simulator will lower the barrier to allow them to step into the field."

Airport Open House

The acquisition of the AATD is one of many efforts to increase aviation awareness in the Humboldt area. According to Switzer-Tryon, the aviation club is hosting an airport open house on April 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Murray Field Airport (KEKA). 

The airport is a general aviation facility located south of Arcata along Arcata Bay and has a single runway, 12/30 measuring 3,011 feet by 75 feet. According to Airnav.com, there are 22 aircraft based at the airport, but according to Marshall, they expect 50 to 70 aircraft to show up for the open house static display.

The airport is one of six in the county. According to local pilots, over the years the general aviation infrastructure has largely been neglected because the county dissolved the department of aviation and put the operation and upkeep of the airports under different departments, such as public works.

This changed in 2018 when the county hired Cody Roggatz to be the director of the newly reconstituted department of aviation. There have been some growing pains as the county has moved through backlogged maintenance and compliance issues with the FAA. For example, in February 2022, the county instituted a 500 percent rent increase at KEKA, arguing that the rents were artificially low.

FBO owner Kyle Gable stated he could not absorb a rent increase from $1,536 a month to $10,088 a month beginning March 1, 2022. Instead, Gable opted to close the FBO and flight school but keep the maintenance operation open.

In addition to the loss of the FBO and flight school, the airport lost its ability to provide fuel, as the above-ground fuel tank had rotted away from years of neglect and was no longer environmentally stable. As this story was being written, a new tank had not yet been installed, although at multiple county airport meetings since March 2022, Roggatz had stated that there was progress being made in obtaining a tank and getting the permits for its installation. He blamed delays on supply chain issues.

Most of the county's focus is on California Redwood Coast—Humboldt County Airport (KACV) located in McKinleyville, California, north of Arcata. KACV was built during World War II by the U.S. Navy as a facility to test defogging technology. Today, the airport is the only one in Humboldt served by commercial passenger air carriers. At the present time, United Airlines and Avelo operate at KACV. Historically, the county has had difficulty keeping regional carriers in Humboldt County for more than a few years because the profit margin is slim.

The county's regional airport is powered by a self-sustaining solar grid. When an earthquake knocked out power to most of the country in December 2022, the airport remained in operation.

This summer, the Humboldt County Department of Aviation will begin the Runway Rehabilitation and Electrical Improvement Project. The work is slated to begin in June 2023, with anticipated completion in Dec. 2023. It was noted that between August 14 to 25, there will be no airline flights at KACV as the work progresses.


GTX MAX AATD Specs

  • All-Metal Construction
  • C172, C182, or 206 Flight Model 
  • PFDl000 PFD/MFD Panels
  • Dynamic Control Loading (Pitch/Roll/Yaw)
  • Active Circuit Breaker Panel
  • PC Rack System w/Integrated IOS Desk
  • (5) Monitors (Visuals)
  • Monitor (IOS)
  • Integrated Cockpit Air Flow System
  • FlightCrew Seats- Pilot & Co-pilot (w/Adjustable Base and Tracks)
  • X-Plane Professional Software License
  • PFC 1000 Professional Software License
  • PFC 1000 NXi Software
  • Exterior Cockpit Graphics
  • Interior Cockpit Upholstery
  • PilotEdge Compatible (4-way Intercom Included)
  • EFB Compatible
Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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