How did you get interested in aviation, is that what led you to a degree in aeronautical engineering and a career in aviation?
I was always really interested in flying: I soloed at 16 years old and I was instructing by 19 years old while finishing engineering school. I wanted to fly in the military but didn’t have 20/20 vision, so I joined Boeing as a flight test engineer and flew on NASA research projects. Leaving Boeing to look for a piloting job, I joined Hughes Helicopters as a sales pilot.
As a helicopter and jet pilot, did you find that these diverse skills helped you foster a passion for simulator training as a way to reduce pilot-error accidents?
In the airplane business, I flew simulators (sims) in training and early on saw their value. As I got into helicopters, I found there was no sim training. And the accident rate showed the need for it. After some years flying jets and helicopters, I joined Flight Safety and spent 11 years there, most of it in sales. Sim training then was very, very expensive, creating a barrier for new sales in the helicopter market.
As the recently appointed North America New Business Manager at Loft Dynamics, how does Loft approach simulators and simulator training?
The two key words are: ‘affordable’ and ‘realistic’. Full flight simulators can cost between $12 and $15 million to build and sell. Our trainer at Loft Dynamics is in a package that is 10 times smaller and roughly 20 times less expensive. Although we are qualified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), we’re now working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on qualification. At Loft Dynamics, we selected 33 individuals with no flight experience, put them in our Robinson R22 sim and trained them in private pilot maneuvers. Then we compared their performance in the sim with their performance in a real helicopter. This research showed that training in our sim can be applied in a real helicopter 1:1. We proved that our trainer, with six degrees of freedom motion and the full outside world in virtual reality, can deliver a real flying experience. This is novel in helicopter flight training. We not only reduce training flight time, but theoretically replace much of the training in a real helicopter, in a manner similar to what is done in the airline industry.
Loft Dynamics has a range of simulators, including the upcoming H145 that is used in many helicopter emergency medical services and aerial policing – often operating under unusual and extreme conditions. What situations can the simulator replicate and what features help with this?
If you do one of our demos, you’ll experience the realism of the flight behavior and the visual resolution when maneuvering close to the ground. We can replicate a pinnacle approach or a confined area approach or slope landings and we have the terrain to vividly map all of those, providing training for challenging, potentially dangerous maneuvers within a sheltered learning environment. Pilots can be trained in these scenarios, operating in demanding conditions and fostering their single pilot resource management skills effectively to improve their flying skills.
What is coming next for you and for Loft Dynamics?
I’ve already mentioned the R22, and we have qualified our Airbus H125 sim under EASA regulations as FTD 3 (corresponding to FAA FTD 7). We worked very closely with Airbus Helicopters on our H125 (AS350) sim with Garmin TXi glass cockpit and we’re now developing with them this new sim for the H145. We’re pretty excited about it. We think it’s going to be groundbreaking as well. Check out our website for more details.