High-quality flight simulation is extraordinarily expensive, and Caleb Taylor, founder of flight-training provider ProFlight in Carlsbad, Calif., believes his company has found a lower-cost and better method to help pilots learn how to fly a new jet and stay current. ProFlight specializes in Cessna CitationJet training (CE-525/CE-525S) and offers a full-motion Level D-qualified CJ3 flight simulator as well as a non-motion Level 6 CJ3 flight training device (FTD). ProFlight also offers training for the Cessna Conquest I and II turboprops.
Pilots who are training for a CJ3 type rating or for recurrent training can use the Level 6 device to practice, but Taylor wanted to develop another training platform to help his customers. ProFlight’s goal is not just to teach customers the minimum to check the boxes on the FAA’s approved training curriculum. “We’re not box-checkers,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re well trained when they leave here. That’s why we spend a lot of money on technology.”
The newest ProFlight technology is the Nextgen trainer, a a cross between an FTD and the cockpit simulators the large training providers use. The Nextgen trainer, built by Opinicus like ProFlight’s other simulators, accurately replicates the CJ3’s Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 flight deck as well as flight controls and most buttons and switches. Its visual system uses Laminar Research’s X-Plane flight simulator software, which is far less costly than a full simulator visual system and plenty adequate for the task. The idea behind the Nextgen trainer is not just to allow students to get familiar with the cockpit and the avionics but also for them to practice the flight training maneuvers and get graded on them before spending valuable time in the simulator or going for a check ride.
Cockpit Experience at Low Cost
Typical cockpit simulators (not full-motion simulators), Taylor explained, use touchscreens for switches, knobs and buttons, and the student has to find the right spot to activate the desired function then manipulate the touchscreen correctly, all while trying to pay attention to the training that is under way. “It’s negative training,” he said. On the Nextgen trainer everything–gear, flaps and so on–is the same as in the real cockpit, except for seldom-used items such as the battery switch and circuit breakers. The Nextgen trainer also uses electric control loading so the controls operate as realistically as in the full-motion simulator. The trainer features the same aerodynamic and operational modeling as the full-motion simulator. “It flies like a Level D simulator,” he said, “but at significantly less cost.” A Nextgen trainer costs about $500,000; a full-motion simulator runs $8 million.
ProFlight developed the Nextgen trainer concept, which has been under way for the past three years. “We spec’ed it,” he said, “and they built it per our design. They have a creative team.”
ProFlight has developed an online learning management system (LMS) that students can study before traveling to Carlsbad. The online training, currently available for the CJ3, is approved for recurrent training off-site or initial training on-site. Nonetheless, students can save a lot of time in ground school by logging on and hitting the electronic books before class begins. The LMS includes a free-play system that allows students to interact with systems and see how switches affect the system operation. “Distance learning is optional,” Taylor said, but students could save as much as 16 hours at ProFlight by studying before they use the Nextgen trainer. In one of the first initial CJ3 type-rating courses using the Nextgen trainer, a charter pilot earned his type rating in eight days, half the typical time. “He spent tons of time in the Nextgen trainer,” Taylor recalled.
The Nextgen was designed with the goal of helping students save time in the full-motion simulator and build up their muscle memory for where cockpit switches, and so on, are located. But all of the avionics are accurately replicated, including the FMS and autopilot, so students can get familiar with that equipment as well. Students can set the weather and wind, and the device’s database includes a variety of airports.
Grading is done for typical training and check ride elements, such as V1 cuts during takeoff, but ProFlight can add up to 100 scenarios so students can practice non-check ride-related items as well.
During the practice session, the trainer records the entire maneuver and plots the performance against the FAA Practical Test Standards. Students can instantly see how their performance compares to the standards, then redo the maneuver as many times as they want until perfected. The recording can also be played back and reviewed, so students can see where they had a problem in performing the maneuver, and they can re-fly the maneuver from that point instead of starting at the beginning. The most common maneuvers that will be practiced in the trainer are steep turns, stalls, V1 cuts and missed approaches, but many more will be available.