As the COVID-19 pandemic turned the aviation industry on its ear, the folks at Redbird Flight Simulations began fielding phone calls from customers worried that flight training would come to a grinding halt. Josh Harnagel, Redbird’s vice president of marketing told Flying his team, including the company’s vice president of software development, began wondering if there was a way to conduct simulator training remotely. Redbird began cranking away on the problem in March and by April had a few ideas of how such a system might work. Last week Redbird Connect debuted as an effective, no-cost platform for flight instructors and their students to train using flight simulation and video conferencing technology using a web-based version of Redbird’s flight simulator operating system, Redbird Navigator.
In a news release last week, Redbird said, “From anywhere in the world, instructors now will be able to guide and control flight training sessions on Redbird simulators by setting and changing the weather, initiating failures, pausing and unpausing flights, repositioning aircraft, and more. Combined with a live video feed of the student, flight instructors can simultaneously oversee the student’s hand flying and critical flight data.”
This cutting-edge technology is expected to shine soon through the upcoming virtual AirVenture that the Experimental Aircraft Association has been hard at work on since the COVID-19 crisis took a hatchet to the annual in-person gathering of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and airplane geeks. EAA staff and hundreds of volunteers created the virtual Spirit of Aviation Week in an attempt to keep some of the energy and enthusiasm of the show alive until next summer.
A significant feature of the regular show for years has been the Pilot Proficiency Center, with Redbird as a sponsor, and staffed with volunteer CFI members of the Society of Flight Educators (SAFE) and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI). The on-site PPC in Oshkosh is normally filled with dozens of simulators.
Thanks to an exhausting amount of preparation work by dozens of flight instructors and pilots working through Community Aviation, a Virtual Pilot Proficiency Center will offer pilots a chance to try their hand at flying a number of challenging IFR and VFR scenarios using remotely-located simulators. The virtual PPC goes live beginning July 21.
Flight schools and individuals already operating a variety of newer-generation Redbird ATDs running the latest software will be able to connect with CFIs stationed around the world. Students will need an HD camera to connect with instructors via a Zoom link to make the entire experience come together. An iPhone on a tripod would suffice. Experts do worry a technical gremlin or two might appear along the way for some of these virtual sessions, but considering that Redbird and Community Aviation put this entire experience together in just a few months, the initial test results appear nothing short of astounding.
More information about the virtual PPC, including instructor scheduling options is available through Community Aviation. For pilots unable to participate in the virtual AirVenture, there’s more information here about the new Redbird Connect technology.
Readers who are able to experience the virtual PPC during Spirit of AirVenture Week are encouraged to drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with their impressions.