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EAA Virtual Flight Academy Takes Off at Chapter 1067 in Naples

By Glenn Kowack

November 14, 2018 — Chapter 1067 has been developing smartly in recent years. A refreshed crop of volunteers have revitalized chapter meetings with regular presentations and are now holding monthly Young Eagles rallies. The chapter is about to occupy its own hangar for the first time and is putting together a youth build program. It is also one of the first chapters to see how successfully it can integrate EAA’s Virtual Flight Academy into its activities.

Chapter members pulled together an old laptop computer they had lying around, installed Microsoft Flight Simulator, and connected a $35 Logitech joystick. They also brought a more powerful laptop with a more modern graphics processor, which they outfitted with a yoke and pedals.

Starting with the September meeting, the chapter introduced the EAA VFA program to the membership, bringing both simulators for test flights of the VFA’s virtual flight instructor, the heart of the new EAA member benefit. Member tests of their virtual instructor-assisted flying skills yielded enthusiastic results. There was plenty of merriment as pilots looked on as their friends got used to the simulator and saw what sort of performance scores they received.

The VFA is a virtual flight instructor that runs atop Microsoft Flight Simulator X. Far beyond legacy flight simulation, VFA provides focused simulation experiences categorized by individual maneuvers. The virtual instructor provides verbal instructions and real-time feedback based on the user’s performance. The artificial intelligence engine and objective scoring shows not only how well you did, but also challenges you to improve. This scoring also provides the basis for the friendly competition seen at chapter meetings. It is notable that flying a consumer-grade simulator without progressive resistance in the flight controls (they only use simple springs) requires that experienced pilots devote some time to adapting to this new type of virtual flight experience. One of the chapter’s ATP-rated members, who was also a sim instructor, adapted the quickest.

At the September Young Eagles rally, two simulators in similar configurations were used. This time they were able to see how Young Eagles would respond to the Aviore-inspired Young Eagles version of VFA. The response was no surprise: kids grinning from ear to ear, beaming when they saw how well they’d performed. The chapter performed the same exercises during the October members meeting and Young Eagles rally. This time, one of the members brought a 40-inch TV, which added to the fun at no cost. The TV is a breeze to connect with an HDMI cable, and then you’ll just need to configure the TV for that video source. The results again were fun, enthusiasm, and group engagement.

In the EAA Virtual Flight Academy, the primary focus was on two of the six available maneuvers: the introductory flight and the normal landing. These provide distinct accomplishments for young flyers to focus on. The introductory flight has an especially fun element: after the orientation segment, young flyers run an aerial hoop course in which they fly through concentric circles along a serpentine flight path. It’s a real crowd-pleaser and a perfect way to challenge and evaluate just-acquired flying skill.

Something unexpected and delightful happened at the October rally. One of the parents indicated past interest in a flying career, but cost and family obligations got in the way. After watching the Young Eagles on the sim, he asked if he could dive in, which he did — with gusto. He graciously gave up the controls when the next Young Eagle arrived for his turn, but it was obvious he would have flown the entire day if he didn’t need to take his family home.

The best part was that the rally itself was transformed. Young Eagles events always require extra effort to keep the kids engaged while waiting for their flights. Too often the hangar feels like a waiting room; not terribly exciting for high energy kids as they and their families wait for their name to be called. But with the VFA running in the hangar, now there are flights happening on the ground, not just in the air. More than a few volunteers remarked how much and how positively it changed the energy of the rally.

Young Eagles eat this stuff up. They gain these flying skills impressively quickly — far faster than most adults. Several got scores in the 90th percentile after only a few tries. The VFA also gives young people a way to continue engagement beyond the first Young Eagles flight. When they come back to the chapter having high scores on the maneuvers, the chapter would be more than happy to give them an additional Young Eagles flight.

“The EAA Virtual Flight Academy, along with Sporty’s Private Pilot Ground School, our Young Eagle flights, the opportunity to actually build an airplane, and the mentoring from our many qualified and experienced members will allow us to create a more complete career-focused aviation program for our local young people,” said Chapter President Joan Zaleski, EAA 1191719.

These takeaways may be useful for other chapters:

  • Getting started and learning how the VFA works for your chapter is key.
  • The VFA runs fine on many older Windows PCs so chapter members should be able to easily find a computer for meetings and rallies. The rule of thumb is if the PC runs Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX), it will do just fine.
  • You will need to buy Microsoft FSX on Steam, which is nominally priced at $24.99. FSX is frequently on special. As of this writing FSX Steam Edition is on short-term sale for $9.99.
  • A simple joystick is a good start ($35 gets a very good unit).
  • Modern flat-panel TVs can often be borrowed from members. They add a lot.
  • As the chapter gains experience, it may wish to add a yoke, pedals, more powerful machines, and larger displays.
  • Assign one or two PC-knowledgeable volunteers to be lead VFA experts.
  • From there, the sky is not the limit!

See more info and get the EAA Virtual Flight Academy at www.EAA.org/vfa.