I was confident, yet still a little anxious in the days leading up to Airventure this year. Like a proud parent watching my kid go out into the real world for the first time, I knew I had prepared my “child” for success, but you never really know how well they’re going to do until they prove themselves in real life.
You see, I, and my colleague, Nicholas Rizzo, are the main developers who made GIFT: Guided Independent Flight Training. My DNA is in that product, as if it were my child. Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and opening day of Airventure 2017 was the day GIFT made its debut.
Installed and ready to fly on a Redbird FMX, GIFT awaited test flights from the thousands of visitors to Oshkosh this year. At the simulator in the Redbird tent, I watched gratefully as airshow attendees flocked to the simulator over the course of the week to test fly our training modules (sometimes two or three times), including quite a few student pilots who are still in the process of completing their primary training. I had the opportunity to join many of these folks in the simulator as they put GIFT to the test. It was a distinct pleasure for me, even if a little nerve-wracking. Remember, I was sitting with visitors who were judging my baby!
Fortunately, GIFT elicited oohs and ahhs. Smiles were seen on the faces of student pilots as they stepped out of the simulator, usually accompanied by genuinely positive comments. I heard a few seasoned pilots say, “I wish I’d had that when I learned to fly.”
My favorite test flight came from a student pilot who only had 3 hours of flight time logged thus far. I asked him, “So, has your instructor let you try to land yet?”
“Not yet.” “Wanna learn how real quick?” “Sure!”
I launched the “Normal Landing” module, sat back, and with great effort not to coach the student through the landing myself, I let GIFT teach the young man how to land.
“Oh, I just fly through those gates.” “Yep.” “Oh, it tells you what speed to fly at.” “Yep.” “Oh, it tells you if you’re too high.” “Yep.” “Hey, I did it!” “Yep!”
My other favorite thing about showing GIFT to folks at Airventure: most instructors who flew GIFT realized how it could help them and flight schools.
All too often, Instructor, airplane, and student schedules don’t match up, resulting in frustrated students and lost time for the instructor. Without prompting, many flight instructors whom I joined on GIFT test flights said that GIFT could help them keep their students happy and on track by allowing them to receive in-simulator flight instruction and practice as part of their regular training. While the CFI is in the air with one student, another can be in the simulator learning and practicing, say, short field take offs (and receiving an ACS-based score after each attempt).
I was heartened to hear this feedback, because it meant we accomplished what we had set out to do. Not only did student pilots love GIFT, instructors realized they could use GIFT as if they had their own assistant CFI. GIFT can’t replace a CFI, but it can make an instructor’s life a lot easier.
From concept to release, we kept in mind that GIFT had to be more than a novel new application. It had to be an effective and efficient way to streamline primary flight training for everyone involved: student, instructor, and flight school alike. As our CEO, Todd Willinger frequently reminded me, it had to be World-Class.
Thanks to the talent and hard work from just about everyone at Redbird, our product, my baby, has taken flight.