Pilots Boost IFR Skills During Weeklong Clinic

Community Aviation’s “Spring to Proficiency” event was the first off-season course held at the new Pilot Proficiency Center at Wittman Regional Airport.

The Redbirds were pre-programmed with specific scenarios and provided instructors an opportunity to evaluate the learner’s level of IFR proficiency and skill. [Courtesy: Billy Winburn]

When one thinks of EAA AirVenture, you often picture the grounds of Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) and its grass field neighbor Pioneer Airport (WS17) teeming with people, airplanes, and tents. But that is just during a few weeks in the summer. When I was at KOSH the last week of April, the place was decidedly quiet, almost Brigadoon-like, with the exception of the Pilot Proficiency Center (PPC) in the educational wing of the EAA Museum. 

The 15,000-square-foot center features classrooms, meeting space, briefing areas, and a flight simulation laboratory with 12 Redbird Flight Simulations advanced aviation training devices (AATDs). They were humming as part of the Spring to Proficiency program, the first off-season event described as "an immersive and personal three day IFR clinic" at the center.

The two classes capable of accommodating 20 trainees each were held April 24 to 28. The event was spearheaded by Billy Winburn, president of Community Aviation in Alexandria, Virginia.

First Off-Season Experience

Winburn founded Community Aviation seven years ago. He describes it as thus: "In the business of connecting experts with learners in the field of aviation." The Redbird AATD is key to this. 

"They are very effective machines for flight and proficiency training,” Winburn said. “One major benefit is their flexibility—you can readily convert their AATD line of sims from one aircraft type to another by simply changing acrylic panels. This allowed us to readily accommodate clinic attendees who preferred a legacy gauge configuration versus a glass panel."

According to Winburn, there is a "close working relationship between Community Aviation and Mindstar Aviation, who provide the avionics software for the Redbird sims allowing me to better appreciate what goes on under the cowling of the sims. I’ve also developed a good working relationship with the greater Redbird team who are top notch."

Last year Winburn pitched the idea of a spring IFR clinic to Jeremy Desruisseaux, EAA’s director of flight proficiency. Desruisseaux was enthusiastic, and acted as the EAA point of contact, making sure the Redbirds and the building were available, and there were onsite meals for the participants, EAA branded notebooks for the CFIs, and housing for the 10 or so flight instructors who participated.

CFI Jason Archer has been an instructor for more than  eight years, with more than 2,800 hours of dual given, specializing in IFR and tailwheel. [Courtesy: Billy Winburn]

One of the first CFIs Winburn contacted was Jason T. Archer from Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Archer has been an instructor for more than  eight years, with more than 2,800 hours of dual given, specializing in IFR and tailwheel. He holds a pocketful of certificates and accolades, including Gold Seal Instructor, 2021 CFI of the Year BDL FSDO, 2021 AOPA Distinguished Flight Instructor, and 2018 FAASTeam Rep of the Year BDL. Archer was give the opportunity to develop the curriculum for the event. He says he drew upon his experience as a member of the Pilot Proficiency Project since 2015 and his day job teaching in a planetarium.

"I have spent most of my career working with simulations," he said. “Planetariums are merely sky simulators. My current planetarium utilizes software that not only simulates the night sky but the universe in a way that allows me to ‘fly’ audiences through the solar system, our galaxy, and the bigger universe."

Archer was excited to be part of the event, saying, "I really enjoy the PPC and believe that simulation can and should have a big place in flight training.”

Full disclosure: I was one of the instructors. I have thousands of hours teaching in Redbirds and I am a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Project (PPP) that began at AirVenture in 2009 with a Redbird FMX in the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators tent. The PPP has grown over the years and is now supported by both SAFE and the National Association of Flight Instructors, as well as several corporate sponsors who made the Pilot Proficiency Center possible.

I tell the learners that the Redbird is more challenging to 'fly' than a real aircraft because you don't have kinesthetic sense. However, in my opinion, it makes a better teaching environment because you need a better scan and the instructor can control the weather, and surreptitiously instigate system failures. These are done with a tap on the tablet and can be time delayed—there is no obvious reaching across the cockpit to pull the throttle to idle to kill the engine for example. This results in a more realistic startle effect. And of course there is the ability to pause and reset the 'airplane' so that the learner can repeat the maneuver so that learning can take place.

Instructing the Instructors

The development team has created flight simulation exercises and scenarios designed specifically for the Spring to Proficiency clinic. Winburn proudly noted that each mission was created by local area experts and included dynamic weather, enhanced scenery, live ATC and flying environments particular to that particular part of the country.

Live ATC was provided by PilotEdge. Each AATD had the opportunity to be connected to the PilotEdge network, as communications are critical to operating in the IFR system.

My role in the spring event was as the creator of the Pacific Northwest Scenarios and exercises, and to provide guidance to other CFIs who might not have as much experience teaching in Redbirds or Garmin G1000-equipped aircraft. Buttonology is key. Knowing how to accelerate the flight and by how much—no more than 2X—is key. Every Redbird is configured as a Cessna 172S. We had both G1000 and legacy gauges—also known as round dials—for the learners who wanted that experience.

Most of the CFIs were drawn from the Midwest. Before they and the learners arrived, Archer and I took over the CFI briefing room using the whiteboard to create talking points. That's also where Wisconsin CFI John Dorcey, who recruited many of the CFIs acted as sweep and noted the proper format for the logging of AATD time in the learner's logbooks. The learners were also offered the opportunity to use the event as part of their instrument proficiency check as arrangements were made with a local flight school to supply the circle to land approach required per FAR 61.57(d).

The Redbirds were pre-programmed with specific scenarios designed to teach the pilots how to use the Redbird while simultaneously providing the instructors the opportunity to evaluate the learner's level of IFR proficiency and skill.

The 15,000-square-foot center features classrooms, meeting space, briefing areas, and a flight simulation laboratory with 12 Redbird Flight Simulations advanced aviation training devices (AATDs). [Courtesy: Billy Winburn]

We were warned repeatedly to treat the use of PilotEdge the way we do ATC in the real world, in short, make proper radio calls, follow instructions, and do not hit the AATD pause button—once that scenario is underway, it is underway, and if you do something silly or incorrect—like bust airspace you will be called out on it. PilotEdge issues deviation reports.

I was assigned Redbird #1, and my first task was to demonstrate “Three Wire to the Boat,” which is an exercise that has a Cessna 172 attempting to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. It's the ultimate shortfield landing as it calls for a stable approach and precise control of airspeed. If you undershoot the deck, you crash. If you overshoot and go off the edge, the runway will run you over. I demonstrated it for the other CFIs, talking the whole time in my instructor voice. “Three Wire” is a specialty of mine. I used it once as a fundraiser at a flight school, 'carrier qualifying' 37 people in one day and giving them call signs.

Each instructor was given a binder that contained the lesson plans for each exercise or scenario. The lesson plans are detailed. For example, in “Going to Boeing,” the pilot is making a relatively short flight from Snohomish County Airport Paine Field (KPAE) to Boeing Field/ King County International Airport (KBFI) for the purpose of visiting the museum. Each scenario presents a list of challenges, such as weather taking a turn for the worse, airport closures due to an incident, etc., which help the pilot to flex their decision making muscles. It was understood that most of the learners would be using EFBs to bring up the approach plates and airport diagrams during the lessons.

Each Redbird had call out cards with information on procedures, airspeeds and performance charts culled from the Cessna 172S POH.

Scenario based training is where the Redbird shines. 

"Fly the Redbirds as you would an airplane," we told the CFIs. That meant V-speeds were briefed. Checklists were used. Aircraft performance was calculated just as it should be in the real-world.

The instructors spent the first day getting more comfortable with the buttonology and operation of the AATDs. We test flew the scenarios and exercises, making notes on how to perform the tasks in the most expedient fashion. Winburn, Archer and myself patrolled the room ready to assist CFIs who ran into challenges.

The Learners Arrive

Two classes were held, Monday to Wednesday and Wednesday to Friday. The participants each paid $1,495 to be there. They were paired up, as the concept was for one pilot to fly the other to assist handling communications, briefing the approach, briefing the weather, assisting in navigation and acting as pilot monitoring.

There were three places at each AATD: two seats in front of the panel, and a higher chair behind where either the pilot monitoring and navigating or the instructor could sit. Everyone is wearing a Bose headset. The instructor, when sitting in the right seat, had access to the tablet that contained the scenarios, exercises and AATD controls. Sometimes, when PilotEdge was not being used, the instructor sat in the back and provided guidance as ATC. The detailed lesson plans created by Archer made it easy to teach each exercise and scenario.

The pilot flying and pilot monitoring had to work together to stay ahead of the airplane. This did not seem to be a challenge for Tom Wood and Valerie Swanbord from central Wisconsin, as the pair routinely fly together in a 1973 Cessna 177B Cardinal. I was their instructor.

They both already fly instruments, but wanted to enhance their skills. They both tried the carrier landing, then some situational awareness exercises, then we went into instrument land. I taught them the acronym MAARRTHA to use for briefing each approach (missed approach, approach type, approach weather minimums, radio frequencies, radials if appropriate, time if a timed approach, heading on final, and altitude), and the T-party (Timer, turn, twist, throttle, talk, the tires, the flaps) when passing each fix, and of course the UPs for missed approach: pitch up, power up, clean up, heat up, fess up.

As they flew the exercises, Swanbord and Wood worked out communication in the cockpit which included assigning duties. Then they switched seats which gave me a chance to see where their soft spots and comfort zones were. Learning, Archer advised the CFIs, happens when you are outside of your comfort zone.

After a day in the Redbirds there was a dinner for the class at the EAA museum and a private tour. This bolstered the camaraderie as did the knowledge that they represented what we hope was the inaugural class for an annual event.

"The clinic model fits well into the Community Aviation service model," explained Winburn. "If we are about connecting learners with qualified experts then we should be doing this through a variety of media, online and on-site. It was also a solid challenge. I’ve always wanted the PPC to provide proficiency training beyond one week a year at AirVenture. The new building, with its complement of twelve Redbird AATDs ready to fly, briefing rooms, training areas, and flexible conference space is truly a world class facility. So I thought, let’s show ‘em what we can really do with this facility."

Day Two: Bring It On

The gloves came off on Day Two as we put the learners through their paces. This was purpose-driven instruction, not a 'let's jump in the sim and see what happens' type of event. We spent more than an hour in the briefing room, going over the departure and approach procedures and discussing the enroute segment of the flight. Every leg involved a scenario and IFR conditions prevailed. Approaches were attempted at KBFI and Bremerton International Airport (KPWT) to the west where ostensibly, there is a restaurant known for its fish and chips. 

here were three places at each AATD: two seats in front of the panel, and a higher chair behind where either the pilot monitoring and navigating or the instructor could sit. [Courtesy: Billy Winburn]

The VOR-A DME arc at Olympia Regional Airport (KOLM) was attempted twice—that airport also has a museum. There were holds. There was a partial loss of power while over flying the Puget Sound in IFR which turned into a full-blown engine failure and loss of all power and failure of the G1000—they made it back to land. There was an RNAV approach to Chehalis-Centralia Airport (KCLS) to get inexpensive fuel followed by an approach to Pierce County Thun Field (KPLU) as the sun was going down, because we'd heard the airport has a connection to D.B. Cooper, the never-been-caught man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft on November 24, 1971, and parachuted from the aircraft with ransom money over the Pacific Northwest.

I am not sure who had more fun—me, or Tom and Valerie. I took great joy in signing their logbooks.

Winburn was enthusiastic at the conclusion of the event and thanked the crew that made it happen. It was six months in development, he noted.

"Past experience with the PPC certainly helped,” he said. “But let’s not forget the sizable contributions from Stasi Poulos of Mindstar Aviation who provided his technical skills for the sim mission development, and Keith Smith and Kevin Meyers of PilotEdge for the seamless integration of the ATC and instructor tutorials. Also, John Dorcey for instructor recruitment and Jeremy Desruisseaux, et al at EAA for their support. We could not have done it without these folks."

The Pilot Proficiency Center

The PPC is a joint venture of SAFE and the NAFI. I am a member of both organizations, and since 2009 I have spent a fair amount of time in the Redbird FMX during AirVenture where I taught flying skills by means of scenarios. My favorites are mountain flying at Ranger Creek (21W) in Washington and the carrier landing at sea.

Before 2022, at the end of AirVenture the AATDs were crated up and stored until the next year. I wasn't the only person who wished the Redbirds were available for training year round. Enough people thought about and talked about it with Jack Pelton, EAA's president and CEO, that in 2018 to 2019 the concept of a permanent home for the Redbirds at the EAA Museum went from just being an idea to opening up 15,000-square-foot facility.

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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