Flight Level Aviation

FL0604_FlightLevel_main

FL0604_FlightLevel_main

A training hurricane in western Pennsylvania

I had been flying the full-motion flight training device (FTD) for a few minutes and was lining up for an ILS to Runway 4 at New York La Guardia when I asked Rich Kaplan, proprietor of Flight Level Aviation, the name of the hurricane in which we were flying. The motion system was grunting, groaning and pitching like a rutting hog, and the instruments were dancing around like crazy.

That training device is but one element in a training program that is both unique and valuable. The main element is Rich Kaplan, a CFI-I, aviation medical examiner, Cessna P210 owner, and a teacher who is almost evangelical in the way he wants to cover every base with pilots who engage his services.

Flight Level Aviation is located on the airport at Waynesburg, Pennsylvania (KWAY), about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. The primary offering is the service of Rich and the simulator for $500 a day. That would include flying in the student's airplane, or his P210 is available for an extra $125 an hour, which is a real value. His airplane is well equipped, including TKS approved deice, so valuable experience can be had there. Any instrument pilot who wants a real workout would find this a rare bargain.

The flight training device, built by AST, which has been in the business for years, is far from a bizjet/airline quality simulator. This is the first one with the motion system, and it has a visual system as well. Consider that this unit costs about five percent or less of what a real simulator runs when you contemplate its value and quality.

The visual system is basic, and in flying the FTD the main useful thing I saw here was the breakout on an instrument approach. There, the view of the approach lights and the appearance of the runway is at least somewhat realistic.

The motion system is also not particularly realistic. Certainly no airplane that I have ever flown reacts in turbulence quite like this device does. On the other hand, flying light airplanes in bumpy clouds is hard work, as is flying the device with the turbulence level turned up, so there is value to be found in doing this.

The FTD is programmed with Cessna 210 speeds and power settings, but the similarity ends there. The instrument panel is quite generic.

Most folks who operate simulators or devices like this always like to have their gotchas, things that show mere mortals where they will fail. Rich Kaplan is no exception. He gave me a wake turbulence encounter even as I was flying two dots high on the glideslope. Boom, it's upside down. I managed to recover but felt the demo had no value except for one thing. It can reinforce the reason you should fly two dots high on the glideslope when following a heavier airplane. I don't think the fact that I recovered in the device means that I could recover in an airplane. Same goes for other unusual attitudes.

Same also goes for flying with the ailerons hooked up backwards and with a split flap condition. There are just things in flying that are best managed by avoiding them, and nothing you experience in a flight training device is going to ensure that you can successfully survive the same thing in an airplane.

The best feature of Kaplan's flight training device is the fact that it has Garmin GNS 530, Bendix/King KLN 94 and Apollo GX50 navigators installed. These are the actual units, and the interface is the same as in the airplane. Here is a place where a pilot can truly experience everything and do everything with these devices and come away with the GPS proficiency that is eluding most pilots.

You can do things in the device that you might not try in the airplane, too. Rich had me at 10,000 feet, southwest of the Hagerstown VOR, and he took away the power. The challenge was to parlay the altitude into a landing on the runway at Hagerstown.

He teaches folks to use the vertical speed required feature on the GNS 530 for a dead stick approach, which is one way of doing it. I have always gone through problems like this using one flying mile per thousand feet of altitude agl. Most all airplanes glide better than that, but all will come down at that rate and there are no tails to twitch and no buttons to push to do it this way. If you have fewer thousands of feet of altitude than miles to the end of the runway to fly, it's time for maximum range glide. If the reverse is true, increasing the rate of descent is easy. I've been doing it this way in simulators for years, and it works. I recall reading of a successful F-16 dead stick landing and guess what? That was the procedure used there. One mile per thousand feet.

If ever you had an engine failure while flying along IFR, having gone through the process of learning how to make the altitude and the miles come out even would be invaluable.

The flight training device is also useful for simulating instrument and systems failures. Certainly it is more realistic than slapping a cover over an instrument in the airplane.

The device doesn't have an autopilot, and that's unfortunate because the interface between the autopilot, the airplane and IFR operations is one of the most important things to learn in IFR flying. Rich says, though, that he covers the use of the autopilot in the airplane, which might be the best way to do it because of differences in autopilots. I did get the feeling that he is one of the many instructors who don't agree about the importance of using the autopilot in IFR operations.

It is all good stuff. Currently Rich Kaplan is spending about half his time in aviation and the other half in medicine. I think that if the aviation business increases, he'll put more time there.

He has a website, www.flyimc.com, that should be visited before a pilot opts to invest in this training, whether it be recurrent or initial training in a 210 or Malibu or other high-performance single. Or you can call 724/880-2948. Certainly for a pilot who feels like value would be found in a good workout, including actual IFR flying in the airplane, this is easily worth $500 a day. Most of his students come for two days, and they have come from far and wide. Rich Kaplan will push from start to finish, and the result will be experiencing just about everything there is to experience. The insurance company will love the fact that you did it, too.