A pioneering effort in blending education and technology is quietly underway at a place you’d hardly expect to look for it: the Westchester County Airport. That’s where Performance Flight, having just relocated to larger and more modern space at Million Air’s new private terminal building at 136 Tower Road, has been expanding the role technology plays in its flight school’s operations to train new pilots and conduct advanced courses for those already flying and wishing to upgrade their capabilities, such as going from private pilot to commercial pilot and beyond.
Lewis Liebert, founder and president of Performance Flight, explained that the company has three divisions. “We have a very large program with the Cirrus Aircraft SR 20 and SR 22 models,” Liebert said about the high-performance, single-engine, propeller-driven airplanes Performance Flight operates. “We’re using 12 of those aircraft for primary training, instrument training and onwards.
The second division we have is aircraft charter where we’re brokering jets around the world.” Liebert said they serve a range of clients from those wanting to go on vacation to those going on business trips.
“The third division we have is aircraft management. Within the management division, we also have our own maintenance operation. We have mechanics on-site here at Westchester County Airport,” he said. Liebert said the management division is taking care of Cessna Citation and Gulfstream jets. A new Cirrus Vision jet could be seen parked on the ramp below his second-floor office window.
Two sections of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations allow for different types of flight instruction operations. Part 141 of the regulations covers highly structured flight schools which must submit a curriculum to the FAA for review and meet other requirements, while operations under Part 61 are more flexible. Part 61 allows the curriculum to be adapted to the specific needs of a student. For decades, traditional Part 141 training has involved classroom instruction for groups during which instructors would deliver lectures covering FAA-approved subject matter. The ground school would be coupled with flight lessons following an FAA-dictated syllabus of exercises.
According to Liebert, Performance Flight elected to go the Part 61 route because, in part, “What we’re creating is the next generation flight training. We’re doing something that no one else has done in the world by integrating the technology and the material.” The curriculum flexibility afforded under Part 61 allows Performance to meet FAA standards while, at the same time, creating its own instructional materials which incorporate the latest graphic, video, data collection and whiteboard presentation technologies.
Liebert said that what they’re doing is different even from what’s happening with technology outside of aviation in public and private education. “Most schools are isolated from the content creators so someone has picked the technology and there’s a smart board in the room and the teacher hasn’t had anything to do with that selection. The software is chosen by the board of education and whatever committees and personnel are involved to select that. What we’re doing is creating it in a homegrown fashion where the instructors are participating directly in creating the content.”
Liebert explained how a graphic showing the basic forces which act on an airplane during flight (lift, thrust, drag and gravity) can be neatly prepared for effective display on the whiteboard with the instructor adding additional visuals and notes while leading the student through the subject matter.
The presentations can be loaded with visual features such as navigation charts and operational checklists. The whiteboard material can also highlight mistakes made by students during actual flights. Data from an airplane’s instruments and engine monitoring system can be presented on one part of the whiteboard while video showing what was happening in the cockpit during a flight to produce the data can be running in another section. Going a step further, what the student sees on the whiteboard during instruction at Performance’s airport facility can be packaged into digital files, which can then be emailed to a student for study at leisure.
“You’re either going to make it or you won’t. But, almost everyone’s going to make it. We’re just making sure you’re doing it correctly. We’re taking the program and wrapping it around you,” Liebert said.
The basic technology available in airplanes has changed dramatically in recent years as what’s called the “glass cockpit” has become preeminent. Digital instrument displays, highly sophisticated autopilot systems, GPS navigation coupled with moving map displays, conflict alerting systems, infrared-enhanced vision systems and more have changed the way pilots interface with an aircraft’s systems and what the pilots need to do to keep an airplane on course and in a stable flight regime.
“When I started Performance Flight in 2007, the Cirrus Aircraft was actually the first one to have a glass cockpit. We’ve been operating with the technically advanced aircraft, as it is called,” Liebert said. Being able to use the whiteboards to demonstrate how to use and make inputs to the glass cockpit equipment is easier than trying to teach a student either by trial and error during flight or by reading an instruction manual.