True Course Creates Virtual Realty Flight Training Programs for Air Force Academy

In just seven years, True Course Simulations (TCS) grew from a small garage business in Prescott into one that now is manufacturing virtual reality flight simulators for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs.
Or, as TCS Director of Sales AJ Smith says, “Our business really took off when we got that USAFA contact in 2018.”

Even better, the USAFA has just issued a contract to TCS for units to support the operation of 40 simulators.

Company owner Ray Bedard said the new USAFA agreement is “comfortably over a million dollars.”

The first contact with the academy came in 2018-19. Smith says TCS is the one of the few companies doing professional virtual reality (VR) and the only company that has developed a virtual flight instructor that allows educators to substantially reduce their student-to-instructor ratio.

Formally called Immersive Training Devices (ITDs), some users suggest that flying an ITD is more difficult than actual airplanes. Founder Bedard says VR simulation is meant to teach and reinforce procedures.

“Simulation isn’t meant to replace real airplanes,” he said. “You must combine simulators and airplanes together for the things each of them is good at.”

Founder Bedard started TCS following retirement from a 20-plus year career as a faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Before that, he had been in the Canadian Air Force.

Now, the company is located at 430 N. Mount Vernon in Prescott. Six full-time people work for TCS, including Bedard, Smith, ERAU graduate, co-owner and Vice President Brett Watts, IT Specialist Ken Watts and two part-time employees who help set up machines. Two others are full-time instructors at the USAFA.

While major manufacturing is for the USAFA, TCS also builds simulators for ERAU’s Daytona Beach campus. “We’re also putting four simulators together for a high school in Liberty Creek, Tennessee,” said Watts. Eight others are under construction for various other clients.

Watts builds the training devices from components that are produced nationally and internationally. Some come from Europe, others from Asia. Computers come from various sources, so recent supply chain issues have been discouraging, Watts says.

Two Immersive Training Devices

TCS manufactures two distinct simulator platforms. Both are about the size of a large rectangular table with a large screen at the front. One ITD is focused on simulation for flying a Cessna 172, one of the most popular planes in the nation used for student pilot training. However, work is underway to create other prototypes, among them the Cirrus aircraft out of Duluth, Minnesota.

The other ITD is what True Course Simulations calls “the fighter.” It is for aircraft that have a side or center “stick” rather than a yoke. Cost for the Cessna simulator is around $35,000. For the fighter unit, the price is about $38,000. Smith says the fighter is a lot of fun to fly in simulation and it promotes STEM education and aviation.

All ITDs have motion and movement built into the platform – up and down, sideways, and front to rear. The virtual reality helmets that the students wear are said to have extraordinary fidelity, realism and high-impact graphics and sound appropriate to the terrain over which the aircraft is being flown.

Smith says the majority of business is dedicated to the curriculum side with virtual reality videos, diagrams, development of tests and instructional diagrams. The curriculum, including 73 missions in virtual reality, costs $495. “What’s great about the missions is that students can repeat them over and over and over, until they are mastered. Just think of the cost savings in that, as opposed to taking lessons in a real airplane.”

Several schools, institutions and flight training programs have been in touch with TCS about building units for them, too, said Smith.

TCS To Be Showcased at World’s Largest Airshow

Brett Watts said he and his Prescott colleagues were delighted when they were invited to partner with Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) at the world’s largest airshow – Air Venture, scheduled July 22-25 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

AOPA is the largest aviation lobby group in America.

TCS will be shipping two ITDs to Oshkosh, where they will be positioned centrally in the AOPA exhibit area. “Aviation people, especially those training pilots, from throughout the nation will have a chance to see firsthand what our simulators can do,” said Watts. “We’ll have exposure unlike any we’ve ever had before. We’ll especially focus on promoting our business relationships.”

TCS executives say their greatest challenge is making the aviation industry aware of a product that can help solve the international pilot shortage by providing more affordable ways to train pilots.

“We hope we can create enough awareness of our ITDs to get them into every career and technical education program at high schools and colleges across the country,” Smith said. “Once students complete our program, they’ll be ready to move into actual experiences in an aircraft.” QCBN

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By Ray Newton, QCBN

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