Making Sims Affordable

Redbird Flight Simulations is on a mission to extend the reach of training technology


AUSTIN, TX — On September 7, Redbird Flight Simulations, Inc. logged the delivery of its 100th Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) to Full Motion Training, LLC, a Southwest flight training provider. With a number of its founders coming out of Dell computers, Redbird follows the company’s model when going to market — integrating technology already available to produce highly functional simulators (‘sims’) at a price many flight schools can handle ... and market. What began as almost a dare among founders has grown into a legitimate company that seeks to make simulator training affordable — at a profit — and thereby expand the attraction and affordability of learning how to fly.

The company was founded by nine former Dell computer and Pepsi executives, a number of whom are pilots.

Charlie Gregoire, vice president of sales, marketing, and services, relates how his father, an accomplished pilot, got them into this endeavor. Relates Gregoire, “He came back from his King Air initial training and started telling us about the sims. And then we started thinking about our flight training. Why, if sims are such a good idea, doesn’t every school have one?”

That led the company to create a flight simulator line that is affordable. Comments Gregoire, “It started as an intellectual experiment. Can we do this? If we build something nobody wants, at least we have a sim we can play with. At the very least, we were going to originally build at least nine sims — one for each partner. And then we’d disband if nobody else wanted it.” Those nine simulators have yet to be built for the founders.

“We just delivered our 100th unit; 103 and 104 are on the floor right now being detailed — they’re for the Air Force.”

The founders started their venture in 2007 and brought the first prototype simulator to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture that year. Relates Gregoire, “Based on the feedback we heard at that AirVenture we decided we needed to form a real company and stop being nine guys in a barn.”

Primary customers for Redbird Flight Simulations to date have been civilian operators; however, the company has projects for both the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force. “FAA flies King Airs for flight checking and they’re looking for sims for those,” explains Gregoire. “We’re building some custom King Air C-90 GTX sims for them. They’re also looking at the FMX for some of their light twin training as well for their flight check pilots.

“Mostly it’s flight schools, universities, private pilots. For the price point, why not?”

The FMX - Technology Evolves

The “flagship” model of the Redbird family of simulators is the FMX, a full-motion Advanced Aviation Training Device that is delivered with one cockpit configuration for some $60,000, according to Gregoire. The cockpit is interchangeable for other light aircraft cockpits, ranging from a Cessna 172 Cardinal (from which the company gets its name) to twin piston configurations and now King Airs.

Comments Gregoire, “FAA changed the way that they certify flight sims. Until about 2005, they were certifying what were called PC ATDs, which were the very basic desktop with a joystick plugged into your computer. Then they had what they called flight training devices, from levels one through six, and a level seven for helicopters.

“And then full-flight simulators, levels A through D. These are the ones that you see at the airlines, at FlightSafety.

“Really the term simulator, in the eyes of the FAA, is talking about the big level A through D multimillion dollar units. We view simulator more as a generic term now; like Band Aid or Kleenex. And really, it was a generic term until FAA got a hold of it.

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