NBAA Convention News

Frasca International: 50 years of simulation

 - October 1, 2008, 5:52 AM

A pioneer in the simulation industry turned 50 this year. Frasca International has manufactured more than 2,000 flight training devices throughout its history that have been put in service in more than 70 countries.

“When I was in the Navy I worked as a flight instructor training pilots on the early Link Trainers. After the Korean War, I attended the University of Illinois where
I did research in aviation psychology specializing in flight simulation,” Rudy Frasca, company president and CEO, told NBAA Convention News. “By 1958 I’d come to the conclusion there had to be a better way, so I built my own flight simulator at home in my garage and Frasca Aviation was founded.”  

Frasca International is one of a very few privately owned simulator manufacturers, and employs three generations of Frasca family members. Rudy Frasca’s son John is vice president and sons Tom, Bob and David and daughters Mary, Peggy and Liz are involved in marketing, management, production, finance and other areas of the company.

In 1983, the company transitioned from analog to digital simulation using PC technology, and the next year pioneered electric control loading, which improved the feel of the controls in the company’s nonmotion training devices. In 1985 the company introduced its first visual system.

For many years Frasca fought the simulator nonmotion battle within the industry in general and the FAA in particular. Rudy Frasca felt motion had limited training value, and in some cases could even result in a negative transfer of training, yet accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of the cost of simulation both in manufacturing and maintenance costs. “It’s not cost effective,” was his mantra.

That mantra on motion figured largely in his participation for many years on FAA simulation working groups. Slowly the FAA began to accept Frasca’s ideology based on the massive amount of data accumulated by universities and independent flying schools using Frasca’s training devices. It ultimately played a major role in convincing the FAA to develop flight training device approval and training credit criteria. By 1987 less expensive, easier to maintain nonhydraulic motion-base technology had improved and Frasca began offering it as an option in the company’s general aviation training devices.

In 1991, Frasca introduced the Graphical Instructors Station (GISt), which has been praised for its ease of use and instructional value. For the first time, instructors using flight training devices had sophisticated control panels previously available only in multimillion-dollar full-motion simulators.

With the aid of computer technology Frasca was beginning to blur the line between flight training devices and full-flight simulators. The company’s increasing expertise in highly sophisticated flight training led to offering customers FAA-approved full-flight simulators in 1992. It was a move that opened up major new commercial and military markets.

In 2003, Frasca delivered 16 level-6 flight-training devices, the first of their kind, to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Two years later a Frasca King Air full-flight simulator with TruVision visuals was approved by the FAA to level-C, and two years after that, in 2007, Frasca delivered the first level-6 helicopter FTD. It included the new TruVision Global highly detailed visual system.

Today Frasca builds a wide range fixed-wing and helicopter flight training devices and full-flight simulators for airlines, flight schools and military organizations. The company has 160 employees at its Urbana, Ill. headquarters supported by sales agents and service engineers located around the world. Roughly half of Frasca’s business is overseas, with 85 to 90 percent consisting of commercial clients and 10 to 15 military customers. Frasca delivers about 50 simulators a year on average, with that number growing in recent years.

The company continues to have an aggressive research and development program based on the fundamental design principle to which Rudy adheres: Form follows function. “We are always looking at what makes sense,” he said. “Not what’s flashy or the latest buzz but what will actually increase training effectiveness in a cost effective manner.”