We all know that, as pilots, we often struggle to remain proficient. Sometimes it’s work pressures keeping us away from flying, or perhaps financial reasons or simply those long, cold winters. Simulation is of great help to hone our current skills, refresh faded ones, and add new tools to stay and remain safe. At AirVenture, the Pilot Proficiency Center has become a major feature, not only because it achieves its intent perfectly, but also because it introduces many to the ‘simulation for year-round proficiency’ concept. I wanted to try it for myself. As a former CFI-I with little recent IFR practice, I thought I was in the ideal situation to evaluate what the Center does and what one can get out of it. The Center is very well organized. You check in at a desk and get your pilot badge, which contains a USB chip that will keep your flight records. Then you book your actual session, specifying what your situation is and what you expect to achieve. Words like “rusty” and “inactive” came to mind in my case, of course, and I settled for a generic refresher and a bit of an introduction to the Garmin G1000 integrated system: a popular but complex “box” which seems ubiquitous in newer aircraft. Once you book your session, you are not given a specific time but are instead told to keep an eye on your cellphone for an alert. A few minutes to a couple of hours later, depending on their load, you will get a text message and have about a half-hour to show up for your session. Here the Center’s staff takes us into the training area.
Once in, I was paired with my CFI. It’s immediately evident when you are flying with a CFI with a ton of experience teaching. Dan Weiss, from Farmingdale, NY is one such instructor, although all CFIs at the Center are seasoned pros. There are 12 Redbird LD stationary sims in the training tent plus one cross-wind trainer, serving about 200 pilots a day. Once you get to your assigned simulator, the pilot and the CFI initiate the session by inserting the USB keys in the sim. Dan selected an airport I was familiar with, KPOU, and an approach I had flown before, the ILS Rwy 6. We started by setting things up for an intercept with Dan explaining the intricacies of the G1000 nicely and calmly. We were both wearing noise-canceling headsets courtesy of Bose, one of the many partners of the Center. This was good for two reasons: the sound of the F16s roaring through the sky above was deafening, and all simulators are connected to a live ATC system if your scenario calls for communication. The session lasted about 50 minutes and, by the end I had flown the ILS, the missed approach, came back for a second one and got a good understanding of how to set an approach into the G1000.
But there is a lot more behind the center. The Center’s Manager, Radek Wyrzykowski explains that the Center also offers Tech Talks, which are sponsored by Jeppesen and Hartzell, and the presentations offered there will be integrated within the sim scenarios. In the true spirit of the EAA, Radek manages a great team of volunteers from all over the country who come to prepare and help for the week of the event. Billy Wilburn, who manages Community Aviation and is a long-time flying training expert, talks about the “missions” they design for the center based on real life situations. They both discuss the 365 concept which will be available from this year on, including credits for the FAA Wings program:
As expected from anything “Osh” the Center is a ‘must visit’ for any pilot, whether flying VFR, IFR, glass cockpit or round gauges. There are simulators and scenarios for everyone and talented staff to go with them. Next time at Airventure don’t forget to book your session, or book more than one, it’s totally worth your time. We also recommend to anyone interested in aviation to become an EAA member. We offer a full and free EAA six-month trial partnership to all of our new members, if you’d like to try it out.