Flight center trains pilots in memory of Scott City family

10/3/2012

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Las Vegas looks just like Las Vegas and Garden City Regional Airport looks just like the Garden City Regional Airport on the flight simulator at the Spencer Flight and Education Center in Scott City.

"You can see Garden City airport right off to the right, the tower there," SFEC Chairman Brian Vulgamore said as he pointed to a monitor outside of the simulation room.

The full-motion flight simulator, the Redbird FMX, is located at the SFEC at the Scott City Municipal Airport. The SFEC opened its doors on Sept. 14, and is something Vulgamore and Vice Chairman Andy Hineman hope will prevent tragedies like the one that claimed the lives of the Spencer family in 2011. Richard Spencer, 35, his wife Amy, 34, and their daughters Chase, 7, and Ansley, 5, were killed in a small plane crash near Topeka.

This prompted Vulgamore, a longtime friend of Spencer, along with their flight instructor Weston Thompson, to create a place where pilots in western Kansas can hone their skills and be exposed to a variety of conditions.

The computer program, Flight Simulator X, provides superior graphics of real world locations, such as Las Vegas or Garden City.

The simulator's full-motion capabilities recreates the feeling of falling after a stall, for instance, extremely realistic. The motion is so realistic that Hineman said it almost made him airsick the first time he tried it.

The program and simulator combined allow pilots to train in conditions they might face when flying an actual airplane. The program also allows an instructor, outside of the simulator, to add different types of weather conditions to the simulated flight, forcing the pilot to adapt and adjust.

Vulgamore demonstrated Tuesday this as Hineman was flying.

"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.

Hineman's view inside the simulator depicted the perspective from the cockpit complete with the sound of a humming airplane engine.

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 in the simulator, forcing the pilot to draw upon his or her training to deal with any situation.

When Vulgamore disabled Hineman's engine, he said that in order for him to be able to land it, the most important thing is that he maintain his air speed.

"If he gets too slow, he'll just fall like a rock — he'll stall out," Vulgamore said.

He said one of the biggest benefits of having the simulator is that it allows pilots to experience conditions that can't be replicated in the air.

"For instance, I'm going to the K-State/KU game in Manhattan on Saturday. There's a 30 to 40 percent chance of rain. So there's a good chance I'm going to be having to fly into Manhattan in the clouds. So probably on Thursday or Friday I'll come out here and practice doing that half a dozen times," he said.

The hopes are to attract certified flight instructors to use the facility. Vulgamore said that the ratio of instructors to pilots is 11 to 1 in western Kansas.

"It's four or five to one in eastern Kansas," he 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."

Some of the ways they have been doing this is by working with area schools, such as Garden City Community College, to encourage adding aviation courses to their curricula.

"(We) encouraged them to reintroduce aviation, and so they're offering that this fall semester. The ground school, and their plan is to expand on that and offer more courses down the road, maybe an instrument course and so forth, and then send the students up here to use the simulator," Hineman said.

There has also been coordination between SFEC and Scott Community High School.

"We've got a couple (of students) right now who are wanting to get their private pilots licenses and go on to K-State Aviation school, and we're hoping we can offer a scholarship down the road and send a student to K-State Aviation in Salina. And then in the summers, they could come back and instruct," Vulgamore said.

Vulgamore and Hineman said that the money generated from the charges for using the simulator is going to be put directly back into SFEC, a nonprofit organization.

"The way we're going to fund this thing going forward is selling hours in the simulator," Vulgamore said. "We're a not for profit organization, so all we want to do is make enough money to keep the doors open. We want to have this thing to be the cheapest simulator anywhere that people can use."

For more information about SFEC and for simulator pricing, visit www.spencerflightcenter.com.

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