Taking Flight: Aerial Engagement launches new training technology

Taking Flight: Aerial Engagement launches new training technology

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Aerial Engagement has set out to prove that not all flight training is done in the air.

The Airpark-based simulated flight studio, resuming business after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus, has assembled the technology to make simulated flight training readily accessible to Valley pilots, flight instructors and their students. Here, aviators can rent an FAA-certificated simulator and practice maneuvers to log their pursuit of new ratings or currency on existing ones.

And they can do it for about one-third the cost of renting an airplane with gas.

“The cost is exceptional,” says Fairfax O’Riley, Aerial Engagement president. And it is “dramatically” less than an aircraft rental and, in some cases, less than other simulators.

Flight training in an aircraft can often exceed $250 per hour, O’Riley says. When you consider that much of the hour is spent idling, taxiing, and “commuting” to and from the training area, it limits the amount of instruction that can occur in the air in one hour.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “You can’t learn to fly without getting in the plane and working hard. But simulated flight training can play a big part in complementing that experience.”

Most folks, when they hear “flight simulator,” think of a small, enclosed box on stilts that moves as the pilot practices maneuvers. Those can cost tens of millions of dollars.

“What we have focused on is, ‘How do we replicate flight training up to a level that is meaningful and yet keep it accessible to the general aviation pilot?’” O’Riley says.

“Commercial airline transport pilots require a simulated flight experience with extremely high fidelity and the ability to simulate external forces — everything right down to passengers complaining about not wearing masks. We’re in the sweet spot below the airlines where the general aviation pilots live.”

O’Riley says Aerial Engagement is interested in the recreational or light commercial pilots and plane owners. The company’s simulators are configured to model the most popular general aviation aircraft, including Cessna, Piper Seminole and Seneca Multi-Engine. Both certificated simulators at Aerial Engagement have Garmin G1000 glass cockpits.

The company even boasts two glider simulators, which are great for introducing young people to flight. 

“We can provide training cheaply, and we can provide it easily. We provide a level of rigor that our local pilot community may want to use on the ground, before trying risky maneuvers in an actual aircraft.”

Aerial Engagement is a rarity in the Valley. Usually, O’Riley says, a simulator is part of a comprehensive training program conducted by a flight school. Because flight schools own their own planes, they tend to downplay the need for simulators.

“Let’s say I’m an independent certificated flight instructor,” he says. “We have 82 of them on our list. Because they are self-employed as independent businesspeople, they are often seen as competitors to a flight school and are unable to use the school’s simulators.

“The niche we’re filling is for the independent, certificated flight instructor and certificated pilot. They can use this place and rent these simulators as they need them.

“There are simulators out there — plenty of them. But there are very few like Aerial Engagement that are open to the public. We really provide tremendous access to people who otherwise could not have it.”

At the 3-year-old Aerial Engagement, the simulators can challenge users with real-world concerns about weather, temperature or other environmental issues. Pilots having “problems” can hit “pause” and resolve issues.

“We can have someone engaged in a practice maneuver within 10 minutes of entering the building and have them out of here in an hour after shooting six approaches,” O’Riley says.

Each simulator is in its own room. Instructors can choose to teach next to the student or from an Instructor Operating Station outside the room, communicating with the student with headsets on an aviation intercom.

“If instructors want to be outside the room, they sit at computers equipped with a clone of the student’s screen, instruments and maps. The maps are updated monthly, so an instructor always has the most current data embedded in the system. O’Riley says he knows of no other similar training facility that offers a detached instructor workspace.

“If you think about it, we’ve cloned everything that the simulator pilot can see out here in the instructor workstation. So, they’re seeing the same thing at the same time as the instructor.”

Aerial Engagement has a charitable arm that it supports called Fledging Youth. The nonprofit organization, whose president is Tarah Schwartz, uses donated funds to introduce aviation to kids to encourage them to enter the fields of aviation, aeronautical engineering, air traffic control or mechanics.

“They go into schools and talk to kids about aviation,” O’Riley says. “Every now and then, a little hand goes up and the child wants to try the simulator. Fledging Youth can work with organizations like Aerial Engagement to allow kids to come in and experience flight.

“They can get a good feel for what it’s like — the sounds, the pressure and the sheer enjoyment of it. If they have a great time, I encourage them to learn to fly.”


Aerial Engagement

15170 N. Hayden Road, Suite 4, Scottsdale.

480-409-SOAR (7627), aerialengagement.com

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