Friends of a western Kansas family who died in a small-plane crash in 2011 are trying to prevent similar tragedies by offering a new flight simulator designed to help pilots improve their abilities to fly in dangerous situations.
The full-motion flight simulator, the Redbird FMX, opened Sept. 14 at the Spencer Flight and Education Center at the Scott City Municipal Airport.
The computer program, Flight Simulator X, provides graphics of real locations, such as Las Vegas or Garden City, and recreates the sounds, sights and motions pilots might encounter during bad weather or mechanical problems. It also allows an instructor outside of the simulator to change the conditions during a simulated flight, forcing the pilot to adapt and adjust, The Garden City Telegram reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/Vu3Y1G ).
Brian Vulgamore, chairman of the nonprofit flight and education center, was inspired to build the simulator after a friend, Richard Spencer of Scott City, died along with his wife and their two children in a small plane crash in a cornfield three miles north of Topeka on April 22, 2011.
Vulgamore demonstrated Tuesday as Vice Chairman Andy Hineman "flew" inside the simulator, which includes a complete cockpit and the sound of a humming airplane engine.
"I'll throw a real strong wind at him, and then I'll change directions of the wind and watch him rock in there in the simulator," Vulgamore said.
The simulator is configured for a Beechcraft A36, Beechcraft BE58, Cessna 172 and Cessna 206, allowing for pilots to practice with each type of plane's instrument panel. An instructor can disable the pilot's engine or otherwise manipulate the instruments, forcing pilots to react to any situation.
The simulator is important for western Kansas, where the ratio of certified instructors to pilots is 11 to 1, Vulgamore said.
"If we could generate enough interest in aviation to get some instructors out here and know that there's a pipeline of people to teach, it's easier to keep them around," he said.
To increase the number of students, the center is urging regional schools to add aviation courses.