By Jessica Runberg
Photo by Sam Nalven
Picture this: You’re behind the wheel of a Cessna aircraft coming in for a landing at the Scottsdale Airpark. Suddenly, there’s a blinking red light and an incessant alarm alerting you that something’s wrong—terribly wrong. What do you do?
This is exactly the business longtime-Scottsdale Airpark tenant SIMCOM is in: preventing panic. The simulator training company teaches new and experienced pilots how to handle any emergency situation in the air—from the safety of the ground.
“It’s all about the mindset. The most important thing we teach students is not to panic,” says SIMCOM Training Center Manager Bill Gant. “Panic will get you in more trouble than any mechanical failure.”
SIMCOM is one of the top-three simulator training companies specializing in pistons, turboprops and business jets. While SIMCOM is one of the original Airpark tenants, the company is headquartered in Orlando and has four training center locations that include the Sunshine State, Scottsdale and Dallas/Fort Worth. Scottsdale is the most intimate training center with five simulators, eight full-time trainers and 15 part-time trainers.
Don’t let the small size fool you. More than 30 pilots go through SIMCOM’s Scottsdale program daily, and the doors stay open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week to keep up with demand. Class sizes, however, are limited to two students to provide a personalized learning experience—and more often than not, the instruction is one-on-one.
“I’ve never taught the same class twice,” says Gant. The curriculum is driven by each student’s individual interests and needs, and the same classroom instructor conducts the simulator sessions so there is consistency across the training.
“A simulator is a better classroom than an airplane because pilots can put themselves in scenarios that they can’t—or shouldn’t—do in a real airplane, such as a battery failure,” says Gant.
The personal nature of the training allows pilots to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask, and more important, they can hop in the simulator to experience it for themselves.
NASA Meets Arcade
But how closely can faux flying replicate the real thing? Apparently, it’s realistic enough that you might get airsick. SIMCOM’s simulators very closely duplicate the cockpits of the airplanes they represent because some of the cockpits are from actual airplanes. The fixed-motion simulators utilize wide-screen visual system technology (think giant movie screens) that make you feel like you need to hang on to something even if you’re standing next to the aircraft. The full-motion simulator reserved for jet training, however, moves in just about every possible direction and looks like something you might see at an arcade—or NASA.
In both configurations, three panels project landscapes from RSI Visual Systems that bring the smallest details to life. Pilots can “fly” almost anywhere in the United Stats—or the world—in a variety of weather conditions, dawn, day, dusk or night. The software is integrated with Google Maps so you might even catch a glimpse of your car parked in your driveway. “Simulator technology has advanced as fast as computers,” says Gant. “We’ve certainly come a long way from cartoon images.”
But as cool as the technology is—and it is pretty cool—SIMCOM is all about emergency-preparedness. For inspiration, the trainers look to heroes such as US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger (known as “Sully”), who landed troubled US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River nearly five years ago.
“The training we do can fundamentally change the way you think about flying,” says Gant. “And in an emergency situation, it can save your life.”
7860 E. McClain Dr., Scottsdale