Flight school's simulators put trainees into variety of scenarios


Nov. 16--David Koehn, Mike Barnes and Darrell Knoop are out to prove that flying is safer than driving.

After all, they say, pilots -- those still alive, anyway -- aren't in the habit of getting lost in a cell phone call or texting while flying.

The earth can be unforgiving to an aircraft that is moving at 100 knots.

"The weak link in our airplane is us and our proficiency," Koehn said. "Safety is an attitude and a decision-making process."

Koehn is a master flight instructor at Destinations Executive Flight Center, the newest flight training business at Jones Riverside Airport. Barnes and Knoop also work at Destinations as instructors.

To the layman, flying in a small private aircraft appears all too often to be foolhardy.

And the several fatal general aviation crashes in recent years in the Tulsa area would seem to support that view.

But, in nearly every case, the cause of the accident was pilot error, arrogance or lack of training, Barnes said.

"We teach the accident chain to every student," he said. "It's often the continuation of single incidents that, taken by themselves, are innocuous, but connected, lead to the accident."

Destinations' training equipment can replicate an accident chain, wind shear, zero visibility or an engine failure without endangering the trainee or an aircraft.

The company has two Redbird FMX full-motion flight simulators -- Koehn describes them as "2,500 pounds and as big as a Volkswagen"

- that can duplicate the instrument panels, throttle quadrants and yokes of seven of the most popular general aviation aircraft:

--Cessna 172 Steam Gauge

--Glass cockpit Cessna 172

--Cessna 182RG

--Piper PA44 Seminole

--Extra 300 Aerobatic

--Beech BE-58

--Cirrus SR-22.

The Redbird flight simulators are the only Federal Aviation Administration-approved full-motion flight simulators for the light aircraft market in Oklahoma, the company said.

"The realism -- the (engine) sound, visuals, motion and tactile sense on the controls -- gives you a realistic experience" of piloting the aircraft, Koehn said.

"I can fail an engine or systems, have a circuit breaker pop, have smoke in the cockpit. They will have to go through the actual procedures to shut down the electrical system and handle the emergency."

Barnes said that in a full-motion simulator with visual displays of any weather condition and any airport in the world, emergencies become real for pilot trainees.

Knoop added: "Their heartbeat speeds up, they're sweating. ...

"In a simulator, you can let their decisions play out until the very end. You cannot do that in an airplane -- you have to rescue them."

Safety, cost and time all weigh in favor of simulator training versus training in aircraft, the instructors said.

To get a license, a pilot must have at least 35.5 hours of flight time in addition to simulator training, they said.

Training in a twin-engine Piper PA44 Seminole can cost $205 an hour, whereas the cost of training in the Redbird simulator is $85 per hour, they said.

"Dollars are involved -- absolutely," Barnes said. "But the safety element trumps it all."

Koehn said Destinations can prepare a pilot through a process known as "mission rehearsal" to fly into an airport he or she has never seen. The simulators can replicate approaches to every airport in the world.

Koehn illustrated the process by dialing in the approach, under a sunny sky, to the harbor and Opera House in Sydney, Australia.

A few seconds later, the "plane" was descending in a snowstorm to an airport in Charleston, S.C.

"It's better, faster, cheaper," Koehn said. "Airplanes make lousy classrooms."

Destinations Executive Flight Center

Address: 8815 Airport Way, No. 4, Jones Riverside Airport.

Service: Single- and twinengine flight training, ground school.

Facilities: Two Redbird FMX full-motion flight simulators.

Source: Destinations Executive Flight Center

D.R. Stewart 581-8451