By Kimberly Hundley • Photos by Sam Nalven
Doug Cox and Larry Barna had decades of combined aviation experience behind them, but it wasn’t until last year—both gentlemen easing into their 50s—that they partnered up to establish their own flight school, Aerodyne Flight Center at Scottsdale Airport.
Laughing a little now, Barna says his and Cox’s respective sprays of gray hair give students confidence their instructors know what they’re doing in the cockpit.
The duo bonded while working at a simulator training company in the Airpark, and realized their combined and diversified business backgrounds would fill a niche in the Valley’s flight-training market. Factor in insurance sales (through Scottsdale-based Alpha Risk Management) with a laser-beam focus on giving each client maximum bang for the buck, and Cox and Barna’s business plan was nearly complete.
“We also came up with advantages for owners who would like to put their aircraft to work,” Barna says, describing the option for owners to lease light aircraft to Aerodyne for use in flight training. “Flight school is part of our business, but it’s not all of our business. We’re enjoying the process, and meeting a lot of good people along the way.”
First things first, though, and top of mind for Aerodyne’s founders was a Redbird full-motion flight simulator. “Avionics” have become a huge part of pilot training, and Barna and Cox knew from first-hand experience that incorporating Scottsdale’s first Redbird would help clients learn quickly, efficiently and economically. The simulator, a substantial investment for Aerodyne, was installed last January in a suite across the hall from the company’s main offices in the Air Commerce Center.
Pilots training in the Redbird enjoy a slew of perks. The simulator is fully enclosed and even physically moves to mimic the roll and pitch of an “aircraft” taking off and maneuvering through the skies, providing a more realistic experience. Not only can Aerodyne exchange and install instrument panels, yokes and throttle quadrants to match the aircraft desired, but the six-screen windshield digitally mirrors real-world airports, terrains and weather conditions.
“It’s not a toy. It’s not something that’s just for fun,” says Barna. “It’s a partner in our flight-training business.”
The FAA allows pilots-in-training to apply a certain number of hours in a flight simulator toward various pilot ratings, and for good reason: when cocooned in a stationery machine, pilots can make mistakes in the Redbird risk-free, plus they have the leisure of review time with their instructors.
“Not only do you get real weather, you get to push the pause button, stop and ask a question. You can’t do that in a real aircraft,” says Barna, describing how Aerodyne instructors sit in the right seat of the simulator’s cockpit and talk students through their training sessions, just as they do on a real runway and in the wild blue.
In the Redbird’s controlled environment, students can safely tackle wind variations, radio calls, instrument or engine failure situations, electrical problems and other challenges.
Student pilots also retain more information when learning in a simulator and can get their pilot ratings faster. Barna points to one of their Redbird’s first customers as an example. The gentleman, a Canadian in his mid-40s with no background in aviation, trained in Aerodyne’s simulator as well as a Cessna 172 to get his private pilot license. “He was about 25 percent ahead of student pilots who didn’t incorporate simulator training,” says Barna.
With fuel savings and time shaved on readying a real aircraft for each lesson, the client subsequently knocked about one-quarter off the private-pilot rating’s training cost, which runs between $15,000 to $20,000, according to Cox.
As a general rule of thumb, one hour in the simulator equals three hours in an aircraft.
Aeordyne’s Redbird rental rate is $90 per hour; instruction is another $60 per hour. Clients occasionally want to share their pilot experience with family members, and they’ll arrange for a son or daughter to get a lesson in the simulator. “It’s almost embarrassing—some of these kids have grown up playing video games and they fly the simulator better than Doug or I,” Barna says with a smile.
Most flight schools offer a quick demonstration, perhaps once around the Scottsdale Airport traffic pattern and back, for would-be pilots dabbling with the idea of lessons. Aerodyne takes it a step further, says Barna, by making the outing an actual training session. Aerodyne’s “First Flight Experience” includes 30 minutes of sim time and up to an hour of aircraft flight time with an instructor.
The profile of those seeking instruction at Scottsdale Airport—known as SDL—varies. It could be businesspeople seeking travel flexibility, retirees fulfilling a lifelong dream, 20-year-olds whose parents are paying for their pilot licenses, or those looking to make aviation a career, particularly with a predicted pilot shortage due to stricter regulations and retirement-age mandates.
“We’re just as interested in working with a private pilot applicant as we are in helping someone getting their license in a cabin-class that can carry passengers,” says Cox. “Our emphasis is being able to help everyone in any of those areas.”
Aerodyne Flight School also prides itself on flexibility. The school is open seven days a week with half a dozen instructors on call, and can work with an intensive or leisurely schedule. “We’ve trained pilots in as little as 40 hours of flight time—which is the minimum required by the FAA—in 31 days, and the client still had time to play golf in the afternoons,” says Barna. “We don’t turn customers away.”
5 ‘Bet You Didn’t Knows’ for Non-Aviators
1. It’s a whole new world a mile or two above the ground that you’ve never really had the opportunity to see. And you are in charge of where you are going to go.
2. Pilots need an enormous amount of knowledge not just to fly but to prepare for each flight. They must consider factors such as meteorology, fight planning, how far the trip is, how much fuel is needed, etc.
3. There is always another rating to go after. A private pilot’s license, for example, means you can fly following basic visual flight rules for good weather, but flying in reduced visibility requires an instrument rating.
4. Ever heard of “Foggles”? They are the view-limiting visors that pilots wear to train in clouds that make the windshield as clear as a winter blanket. While a pilot may instinctively try to peer under Foggles in a real aircraft, the Redbird simulator makes Foggles unnecessary: each window is obscured and pilots must rely solely on their flight instruments.
5. The best moments of being an instructor are when a student pilot completes that first solo flight and steps out from the airplane. “It’s the biggest smile you’ve ever seen,” says Larry Barna.