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Frasca: The Benefits And Pitfalls Of Simulator Training

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Simulators can affect the time and cost of flight training, and the pace of technology makes it easier than ever to access them, but if you listen to Frasca -- which has more than 50 years of experience in the simulator business -- access shouldn't be the only concern.

Frasca has been in business since the mid-1950s. And, today, the company's approach focuses on two key factors: The ability of students to transfer learned skills into the cockpit; and the ability of both the school and student to maintain an acceptable financial condition throughout the process. In short, Frasca believes that when it comes to getting the most from simulator training, one size does not fit all. Moreover, says Frasca, the wrong fit can be more than inconvenient, it can introduce complications that cost both the student and school time and money.

In Frasca's view, effective flight simulation should maximize the efficient transfer of skills from the simulator to the aircraft, what the company calls "transfer of training." In practice, Frasca sees the best transfer of training achieved through simulators that provide the most accurate replication of the flight environment -- the best aerodynamic simulation, the most accurate flight deck replication, and, wherever possible, integration of qualified aircraft-specific motion and visuals. In today's environment replication of the cockpit environment is even more important as more and more manufacturers are developing aircraft-specific EFIS, GPS, and FMS functions on all sorts of PFDs and MFDs. Frasca's aim is to create the environment that allows each student to most accurately and efficiently replicate the actions they will perform in the cockpit. And realism costs money.

The approach works well with training organizations that operate aircraft that are so expensive they can justify the cost of the most realistic (read: expensive) simulations -- the airlines and military, for example. But in GA environments Frasca has found that triage of the most costly elements can deliver proven benefits for both the student and flight schools. The equation is determined by the type of training and the aircraft used as well as the relevant economics of the student and school within the context of the applicable regulations that frame the training. Frasca's business model has evolved to cater to that. The company offers simulation consultants who work with operators to audit the training environment and match a simulation solution that best meets their needs.

Theory In Practice

In the real world, time and cost are often interchangeable, especially when fuel is burning. So, Frasca begins each audit by identifying the training credit that can shift time from aircraft to simulation. Because the average student pilot today flies dozens of hours above the regulated requirements that often means there's ample time available to shift out of the aircraft and into a simulator. The shift reduces costs for students and increases opportunities for focussed training with instructors. For flight schools that shift can also mean a change in how revenue is generated. There are perceptual hurdles. Most pilots prefer flying to not flying, but Frasca has found that a student who achieves a rating in less time for lower cost will generally be happier with whatever method brings that result and the company strives to meet that goal.

The approach has been tested by flight schools for decades. Starting in the 1960's, pilots at Purdue University passed Private and Instrument standards in less than the regulated minimums by applying simulation to reduce flight time. In 2006, ab-initio Pilots at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University passed Private standards in only 28 flight hours with 40 hours flown in Frasca Level 6 FTDs. Middle Tennessee State University, Southern Illinois University, Western Michigan University, University of North Dakota, and others all have had similar results when pairing accurate simulation with specialized curriculum. Today, most collegiate aviation programs in the US are using Frasca simulation and Frasca says their work is adding to the body of evidence. The problem for some operators is the trouble overcoming the short-term cost of simulator systems over the long-term gains. And Frasca says this perception creates the possibility for some pitfalls.

To Full Motion Or Not To Full Motion?

As technology advances, the ability to create active motion simulation becomes easier, but Frasca has a warning. Qualified high level Full Flight Simulators (Levels B, C, D) require validated six-axis motion. For full qualification, the motion cues provided by the simulation must be validated against actual flight test data. Qualified motion is used by airlines because it fits within their cost/benefit equation. Non-qualified motion systems are available at lower cost for smaller operators but, says Frasca, that's a problem. "The University of Illinois showed that the transfer of training in simple motion sims was lower than in fixed-base sims because the unrealistic motion was getting in the way of the training." Students who learn technique based on inaccurate cues may need to un-learn or re-learn skills in the aircraft before they can become proficient. That means time and money wasted on duplicate efforts and a direct loss in the efficiency simulator training. Says Frasca, "it's better for pilots to have no motion than to have inaccurate motion." So, for training operations of lower means, Frasca has focussed their investment on other forms of realism in simulation.

Today, Frasca's product range can include Dynamic Control Loading that provides realistic feedback of control forces through a wider range of the flight envelope, enhanced visual systems, and aircraft-specific cockpit designs and avionics packages. The company's work in the helicopter training market, has helped it develop advanced visual technologies that trickle down throughout Frasca's product line. For example, the company can now offer wrap-around projection systems that span over 220 horizontally and 70 vertically, and that means pilots of light airplanes can practice visual maneuvers in Frasca sims. The newest Frasca simulator designs can introduce and verify student performance in taxi, takeoff, traffic patterns, VFR cross country, and even maneuvers like turns around a point and landing. Basically, every VFR maneuver can be effectively learned in the sim with final checking performed in the aircraft.

What The Future Holds

Moving forward Frasca sees visual databases continuing to improve as high resolution imagery becomes more affordable. Other developments include the introduction of various types of automation. These may include simulation of the ATC environment and lesson scenarios so that each pilot experiences the curriculum exactly as designed, while the instructor is free to focus more on instruction and less on administration. Dynamic traffic elements are being included in these scenarios and integrated in cockpit traffic awareness systems such as ADS-B. Objectively scoring pilot performance on these automatic scenarios will provide rich analyses for pilot debriefing. Anything which reliably automates operational and objective tasks will let the instructor give more attention to the pilot and those are the targets for Frasca.

The integration of simulator training for most businesses who see its value is simple. Doing it in a manner that offers the value to students and maximizes profits for schools isn't. Frasca's strategy is to approach each application in context and provide custom solutions that create reliable revenue tracks for the flight schools and more predictable outcomes for students. There are, of course, other options.

Frasca International, Inc. was founded in 1958 by Rudy Frasca, a former Navy flight instructor. The company currently employs 200 in Urbana, Illinois. The company is grounded in a love of aviation and many employees and family members are active pilots, including John Frasca, President and CEO. One of Rudy's sons, John grew up immersed in the aviation industry, designing and building early electronic flight simulators in his teens, and leading the company in development of new technologies for over three decades. Several of Rudy's other children are also actively involved with the company and committed to helping customers achieve success.

Since its founding, the Frasca company has delivered over 2,500 flight simulators around the world, most of which are still in service. The diverse product lines for airplanes and helicopters range from Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD) through high level Flight Training Devices (FTD) to Full Flight Simulators (FFS) for airlines, military, colleges, and commercial organizations.

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