Today’s Flight Plan
Today we are joined by Jerry Gregoire of Redbird Simulations. Jerry is one of the original founders of Redbird, taking his love for flight and corporate expertise to the industry of building high quality and affordable flight simulators.
Redbird has become a household name over the last 7 years since they started. Most flight schools these days have a Redbird of some kind.
But Redbird isn’t just about awesome full motion simulators. They also have a lot of other initiatives going on that are noteworthy. Namely, the RedHawk, SkyPort, Connected Airplane, Trace, and many other technologies and ideas.
Like most of us, though, Jerry started with a love of aviation that is still alive and burning today.
We hope you enjoy this interview.
Big thanks to Jerry for joining us on this episode. He’s a busy, busy guy. It’s always great to hear his thoughts and see a unique perspective on the industry. Thanks, Jerry!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Gobble, gobble, gobble, this is AviatorCast episode 46!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. To me, each and every flight I take is a new and eye-opening experience. Each time, I learn something new. Each time, I am amazed by the wonder of flight, and each time I am grateful for my God-given altitude and air speed. Each time, I long for that return to the sky.
I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So welcome to this, the 46th episode of AviatorCast. It is awesome to have you here. I have a great show lined up for you guys today, a very special guest, and we will get to that soon. I’ll tell you exactly who it is but first as always we have a review. This one comes from MitchBV from Canada. He says “Always inspiring and informative” and gives the podcast five stars. He says “Thanks Chris for your weekly podcast. I have been meaning to write a review for some time now in order to spread the word about the high quality of the guests and the level of aviation information they provide. They and you never fail to inform and inspire to strive for constant improvement in piloting whichever wonderful flying equipment you get behind the controls of either in the simulator or a real aircraft. I’m sure I speak for many when I say your podcast draw me into intently listen to every word spoken in your weekly discussions. Always a learning experience taking place. Thank you for your effort Chris in gathering your top-tier guest. Very much appreciated.” And that is Mitch from Duncan, British Columbia.
Well thank you Mitch, really appreciate that, and I appreciate the kind words. You know, a lot of that thanks goes to the guests for coming on this show and spending your time to get on here and share their information with you guys. It is largely because of them. But I’m grateful that we are here each week, and today is a big week of gratitude, or rather this week is a big week of gratitude. It is Thanksgiving Week here in the United States. Thanksgiving was just yesterday. We all gathered around with family and friends and we had some turkey and cranberry and mashed potatoes and all that kind of traditional food that we have on Thanksgiving. Now that’s a US tradition. I know that many of you around the world listening to this will have not partaken of a big feast yesterday and I know that you Canadians I believe celebrate it in October, so that ship has kind of sailed. But this is our celebration of thanks, of giving thanks for all that we have and as such, I just want to give thanks for how much you listeners have contributed to me continuing this podcast week after week, and also thanks to the wonderful guests that we’ve had on this show week after week and yet another one that we have this week.
But it would not be possible without you so thank you for being here. I truly do mean that and I know that I say it at the end of every episode but I really am thankful for you being here. I do love hearing from all of you on the website and through these reviews on iTunes like we got here with Mitch, and also the emails I get by writing email@example.com. So thank you so much for being part of this community that we have here and it really is a joy to do this each and every week.
Now, although we had turkey yesterday, a certain kind of bird, we are going to have a different kind of bird today. We cooked up for you guys a Redbird. We didn’t really cook it but today, we’re going to be talking Redbird and quite a bit about Redbird with the founder of Redbird or one of the founders of Redbird, Jerry Gregoire. So Jerry was kind enough to join us on today’s episode. I met Jerry in San Marcos, Texas when I visited the Redbird Migration down there. I know I’ve already reported on that to you guys but it’s great to get some insight from Jerry on a lot of these stuff too. He’s a really dynamic guy, really down to earth and it was great to be able to meet with Jerry.
So here is Hangar Talk with Jerry Gregoire from Redbird Simulations..
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have Jerry Gregoire from Redbird Simulations with us today. How are you doing Jerry?
Jerry: Good. Good. Hi.
Chris: I visited you guys recently at the Redbird Migration. It was my first year. I was already familiar with you guys. You are making waves in the general aviation simulation space and you have a lot of other initiatives going on too. I mean, simulation is just part of what you’re doing now, but I’m excited to have you on this show so thanks for joining us.
Jerry: Well thanks and thanks for coming to Migration. It was great to have you. Great having you in the R&D sessions too. I appreciate it.
Chris: Yeah, no problem. We had a lot of good ideas bouncing around and that’s the exact reason I went, is because it was this conglomerate of innovative thinkers that are trying to change aviation training for the better and that’s the exact reason I went. I didn’t really have any other motives in being there, and I got a lot of it just from that space, so thank you for putting that on because it’s a really unique conference.
Jerry: Oh not at all. Thanks. Well, of course the other reason you came was because you got to come to Texas, so you had that going for you.
Chris: Well, you know what they say, if you cut in Alaska in half, Texas is still the third-largest state.
Jerry. And we’ll never forgive you for that, I want you to know that.
Chris: Yeah. But we may have some, a lot more unused land that’s for sure. Alright. So we’re going to dive right into it here. The first question I always ask our interviewees here is how did you fall in love with aviation, because if the core of who you are, you know, you have a large professional background with several different large companies not including Redbird, but how did you get started? How did you get into this flying thing?
Jerry: Well, I’m from an aviation family. My dad and his brother worked for Bell their entire career, Bell Aerospace which was obviously the parent company of Bell Helicopter. But during World War II and during the 40s and the 50s, Bell was one of the premier aerospace companies in the US. They built the X1 that broke the sound barrier and the X2, and the Rascal. My dad did all of those projects working with Larry Bell. So we moved 14 times when I was a kid, and my brother and I got to the point where we just didn’t even bother unpacking because we were moving on to another project that my dad was working on.
While I was in the marines in the early 70s, they had a program at that time called FIP, the flight indoctrination program, and the military would pay for, you could go to any private school you wanted to and they would pay for your pilot’s license. It was great. And so the marines bought my pilot’s license in 1973. One way or the other, I’ve been flying ever since.
Chris: Great. So what kind of things have you flown along the way? What was your training like from kind of getting that private pilot from the marines?
Jerry: Well we started out, the school I went to was flying Cherokee-140s which as you know, that was a great training plane. Very forgiving and a lot of fun to fly. I was renting planes through the 70s and when the 80s hit and my children came along, we were so broke that I had to stop flying airplanes but we started building ultralights and built several Quicksilvers during the 80s. And in those days, you could fly them around pretty much wherever you wanted to. I was living in Kansas City at that time and we would fly these lazy circles over the top of Arrowhead Stadium while the Chiefs were playing football. If you do that today, you’ll get shot down. In those days, you could do that. The only thing I can say about flying ultralights is you can develop and awful lot of really bad habits flying ultralights because you can get away with so many shenanigans.
And then when the 90s came around, I could afford to fly again and I kind of restarted with a 182, bought a 182 and then bought a Bonanza, flew that for a couple of years, then went to a Baron and then a King Air which I flew for 90GT which I flew for several years. And then I bought my first Citation about six or seven years ago. I’m on my second Citation now, I’ve got about 1000 hours, I’m type-rated single pilot maybe it’s because nobody else will fly with me, I’m not sure, but I’ve got about 1000 hours in jet now. I’m also flying, I own a Bell 47 which is my favorite flying vehicle now.
Chris: Great. That sounds like a big variety of a different things you’ve done. So tell us a little bit about your professional career leading up to Redbird because I want to talk kind of about the startup story of Redbird but I want to get some background on kind of your professional life first.
Jerry: Well, after I left the marines, I went to work for Kraft Foods and continued a career that lasted through three other big companies that was all related to consumer products. Went from Kraft to Pepsi Cola. I worked in their restaurants division at that time which was, we had 20,000 restaurants, Taco Bells, Pizza Huts and KFCs. I entered as a project manager. When I left the company I was a CIO at corporate at Purchase, New York, and just hard up for IT guys I guess. And I went from the CIO job at Pepsi to the CIO job at Dell which was in Austin, Texas which was how we ended up here.
That was an interesting experience probably unlike anyone else’s because when I joined the company, Dell was a 4-billion-dollar company which is pretty large, and when I left, we were a 36-billion-dollar company, and that was all organic growth and consumer products. I had a very interesting learning experience in how you solve problems in non-traditional ways in order to manage that kind of growth. But we were building 52,000 PCs a day when I left. All custom, still whatever people ordered.
Chris: Yeah. Right place, right time kind of thing because home PCs just boomed.
Jerry: Yeah. Never underestimate the value of just being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
Jerry: When I went to Pepsi in ’85, I joined up with a crew of guys that had been kind of come from a whole lot of different places and we all stayed together from ’85 from Pepsi and then we all moved to Dell together. And then that same core of group of guys started Redbird after we retired. Yeah, retirement must be the most overrated goal I can think of. Yeah, after about three months you wake up in the morning and go “I can’t play golf again. I can’t keep playing golf.” And you had to go off and do something else.
Chris: Definitely. So how did you get the idea for Redbird? How did all of these kind of percolate and start for you guys?
Jerry: Well, funny thing I was flying King Airs at that time, this was in 2005, and I was at Flight Safety which by the way I think is a terrific company, I’m not picking off Flight Safety. I was in a very expensive simulator at Flight Safety. It cost about 10 million dollars for this King Air sim. And I was having a lot of difficulty doing that flying a circle to land approach because the visuals were so bad in the simulator that I was having a difficulty identifying the environment of the airport. The guy in the back, the instructor said “Well, it’s not going to be very clear when you get to this DME, go ahead and make your turn.” And I climbed out of that simulator with I guy I was training and said “You know. I just don’t get it. We can make a far better visual system at a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost, maybe down in hundreds of dollars that works better than this, so why don’t we try doing that?”
With no particular goal in mind, I mean, I don’t think we even thought at that time that we were going to go off and build a company around this. We just thought, “Let’s just go fool around with this for a while.” The question is can we build a motion platform that doesn’t require all this nonsense, these deep floors and all this power, all this other stuff. Can we build a better visual system? Why do these things have to cost so much money? And we went off into the workshop in a stable in a ranch in Texas, the three of us, three of the guys that started the company, and we disappeared for about two years. We were in there everyday. I know our families were wondering what the hell was going on. For two years, we decided to try to solve for a low cost full motion flight simulator that companies might be interested in. Our operating principle was “Look, if nobody likes it, at least we’ll build three simulators for ourselves and we’ll have simulators at home.”
Chris: Right, yeah.
Jerry: And we got it to a point where we had some proof of concept. They actually looked pretty good but they were Masonite and Bondo covered with paint kind of simulators and we took them to Oshkosh in 2007 and we bought one of those spaces inside, one of those really hot hangars at Oshkosh that was a 20-feet-wide and 10-feet deep and we brought a couple of this simulators out to show people to see if anybody was interested. By that time, we had a crew of about five guys, all volunteering our time, all retired our guys. And we came back and we were very clear to people that we weren’t taking orders for these things but we would take manufacturing reservations if they wanted to give them to us and we’re not taking any money. Don’t give us money.
We came back with the thickest stack of reservations. We could not believe what had happened to us. And the scary part was it didn’t work. The simulators worked terribly. They looked maybe like they worked better than they actually did but we got back to Austin and sat across the table with our heads in our hands thinking “Oh no. What are we going to do now?” Becauase give them to us and we’re not taking any money. Don’t give us money.
We came back with the thickest stack of reservations. We could not believe what had happened to us. And the scary part was it didn’t work. The simulators worked terribly. They looked maybe like they worked better than they actually did but we got back to Austin and sat across the table with our heads in our hands thinking “Oh no. What are we going to do now?” Because we have this great concept, we proved it, and now we’ve got simply a real market there. So by the end of that year in 2007, we got ourselves some commercial warehouse space and bought some tools and hired some folks and the last month of 2008, December 2008, we shipped our first machine. And last year, migration to migration, October to October, we shipped 332 simulators just last year. We have over a thousand of them running around the world now. Yeah, nutty crazy start-up.
Chris: Yeah. Wow, that’s pretty fascinating. It just goes to show that even the general aviation space has this desire and need for simulation. And I went to get into that more with you later because I think that one thing I notice about Redbird and I’m sure you can validate this is Redbird wants to facilitate making training more accessible. That’s one thing I really get about you guys. You also are working to, and this is connected to that but working to make the life a flight school easier to serve students better. I think all that plays really well together. It sounds like you guys got validated. It’s pretty wild. So what do you think makes Redbird unique compared to other simulator manufacturers out there to where you guys have had such a rush of people wanting to buy your simulator?
Jerry: Well, we arrived in the marketplace with this enormous gaping hole in the market, and I wouldn’t even call it underserved, that completely unserved portion of the market and that was that you have about 3200 flight schools in the US, 3100 of them can’t afford simulators in any kind and they really were stretching their budget to buy 100,000-dollar what would be considered IFR trainers that they could get for their school. And nobody had come to market with a VFR simulator. It could do IFR of course but they could actually teach maneuvers and teach kind of the basics of the aircraft. We’ve always operated on the notion that all disrupted technologies come from below, and we came to market as the disruptive technology that built the company around being able to build these simulators very cost-effectively whereas very simple, very kind of a one trick pony IFR simulator was north of 100,000 dollars, maybe 120,000 dollars.
We come to market with a full motion simulator with wraparound visuals and the ability to emulate any aircraft and any instrument panel for 59,000 dollars. The seats in the classroom goes to a regular person size door and plugs in a wall outlet. We had solved for all of those other problems. So we were on the one hand the disruptive technology that came along to reset the standard and we were building the piece of hardware that made economic sense for schools because it was cheaper to use that than it was the airplane.
The other half of that business about all disruptive technologies come from below is that companies in existence have very difficult time coming down market, if they can come down market at all. Meaning that we knew that the guys building the more expensive simulators, the Frascas and the Flight Safetys and the CAEs and all these other guys couldn’t come down market to meet us. They have so much embedded cost in infrastructure that they look at our price point and said “Well those guys won’t be around very long at that price point” because they couldn’t understand how you can build them for that particular price. So that’s what happened.
Chris: And this is also connected to, and I’d like you to answer this for the listeners if you could as well. This is also connected to the fact that there’s just a transition here, so one thing that a student will experience if he just has a simulator at home say, and say it’s a complex simulator, you set up a lot of controls, you can learn pretty well at home kind of what’s going on, if he goes to a flight school and basically says “Hey, I have this simulator at home, I’ve been practicing a lot, I’ve been studying,” generally the attitude there is a big turnoff by instructors and they roll their eyes sort of thing. What kind of transition or paradigm shift did you see happen in the industry as a result of Redbird there because there had to be flight schools that the lights just kind of went on where they realized “Yeah, we can use simulator to teach a lot of these stuff.”
Jerry: Well, there’s kind of two dynamics going on there. There’s an economic reason why schools in the past reacted that way and that is it’s because the bread and butter for the flight school is renting airplanes out, and the bread and butter for the instructor is get as many hours in the airplane as I can so I can move on to the airline. So the simulator was not built in to the business model nor into the objectives of most flight instructors. Now, one of the things that we experience when we first started shipping simulators is about the time we had shipped our 25th or 30th unit, it began to occur to us that “Hey, you know what? The schools really don’t know how to use these things.” It made economic sense for the flight school on paper and they bought them, they placed orders for them and they had a whole lot of use, not the least of which as a marketing tool for the school, but they didn’t really know how to use them. Their curriculums weren’t built around them.
So in order to make the breakthrough with simulators, we had that follow end behind them say “Okay, here’s the simulator. Now, here’s how it’s best used and here’s how you train your instructors.” There’s a whole revolution in just how flight schools are organized and how they compensate their people and what their business model requires. Now, they get 130,000 dollars an hour for a 172 that cost them about 80 dollars an hour to operate but they’re getting 85 dollars an hour for a Redbird simulator which costs them a buck and a half an hour to operate, so that was a big help in kind of changing that paradigm, but it’s slow. There’s a lot of old-time operators out there.
Chris: Right. And one of the things I noticed at Migration was a lot of the flight schools that were there were there to change their curriculum and think outside of the box on how they could use the Redbird simulators that most of them already had to make training more accessible for their students, cheaper, all those sorts of things. So generally in that sense, a lot of them were naturally just forward thinking anyway which I’m sure you get with a certain demographic of your customers but there’s also the type that probably need a little more nurturing I guess.
Jerry: Yeah, they do. And what’s a shame about Migration is probably the schools that need Migration the most are the ones that wouldn’t come, wouldn’t think of coming. We’ve gone to great lengths to make migration as non-commercial as we possibly can. We ask the guys that come in to present, the professors and the specialists to not say the word Redbird in their presentations. It’s not about Redbird. It’s about this. That takes a certain kind of company and a certain kind of company owner to intuitively understand that there’s got to be a better way to do these things.
Chris: Right. And would you say that with that kind of mentality, that forward-thinking mentality, those flight schools are moving ahead? Have you see that at all where they’re actually kind of making leaps and bounds ahead of completion perhaps?
Jerry: Well, leaps and bounds in so far as, in anecdotal terms, that seems to be the case but in truly measurable terms, we’re seeing the flight schools begin to go away. In other words, the really bad operators, this is like anything else, this is like the restaurant business for that matter. The poor operators, the operators that providing the least amount of value are going away and what’s left over are these guys that have figured out how to make this business model work and we’re definitely seeing that. And we’re also seeing the rise of the multi-unit flight schools. We’ve always had American Eagle around and ATP and these other really good companies, but now we’re seeing guys like Aviation Adventures that started out with one school and figured out the formula and now they’re becoming very significant regional flight school companies and we’re seeing that a lot. I guess the next step is then you start to see the consolidation of these companies like they do the FBOs around the countries.
Chris: Yeah. And I even met a school there, a guy from a school there, he started out with only a Redbird simulator and it was so attractive to local people that they practically begged him to buy an airplane and start a full flight school, whereas before they were telling people to go over to this FBO and rent there. In his case, the other FBOs on the field or rather the other flight schools actually went out of business and it’s only him that’s in business now.
Jerry: How about that? I mean, that’s the new model, right? The other thing that’s happening within the flight school business that I find both encouraging and troubling at the same time is the rise of the boutique flight school being where if you owned a Citation or you owned a Mustang or a King Air, something like that, you sign a service contract with Flight Safety and you go back once or twice a year. I guess I can teach the course at Flight Safety now, I’ve been there so many times and after a while, you’ve heard it over and over and over again but you go through the motions for your insurance company.
And now we’re seeing small independent operators buying Redbirds that got a specific version of the Redbirds and doing a 3-day recurrent course, two days in the simulator and finishing off the last day in the owner’s airplane which is the stand-in for the level D simulator that they didn’t need to buy. And they’re delivering the training at a tiny fraction of the cost to the owner and insurance companies are perfectly fine with this. I think that’s, Flight Safety doesn’t need to worry about CAE, Flight Safety needs to worry about all of these little operators that are starting to pop out now around the country.
Chris: Wow. I didn’t know that that was actually the case with jets even. That’s crazy.
Jerry: Oh yeah. Well, we’ve been building Mustangs and CJ1+s and we built several King Air simulators for the FAA and it’s all about finding less expensive ways to deliver the training. It’s perfectly fine to do it in the airplane. Flight Safety is a great company and I’m a big fan and a customer but it’s very expensive.
Chris: Yeah. I went through a Bonanza course there and I was really impressed. Very high quality instruction. Their guys just get it and they really know the airplanes that they’re teaching. But yeah, like you said, when I saw the price tag on that training course, I just could not believe it, this little single engine Bonanza, not even full motion simulator and it just blew me away. I can see how that would make sense pretty quickly. So let’s talk a little bit about the Redbird product line and also some of the initiatives that you guys have now and some of the initiatives that are coming, some of the initiatives that you’ve had. First off, why don’t you start off by telling us kind of the product line of Redbird, what you guys have from the basic desktop simulator all the way up to your full motion.
Jerry: Yeah. Well we’re a lot different than most companies in that we started out with our big product and went down market to small products. The FMX which is that that full motion simulator that goes into the classroom with the wraparound visuals, that was the first product that we ever delivered. And variations on the FMX have happened over time like cockpit replica versions, the FMX and control loading and all of those other features that have gone into it and gone into variations on that. But at a point fairly early on, we realized that we are going to have to begin to cannibalize our own products by going downmarket in the smaller less expensive units, because we were taking over the market based on that principle and we knew if we didn’t go downmarket, somebody else was going to come in downmarket below us and take our legs out from under us.
And you had to be in the conference listening with these conversations because very rightly so, the sales guy said “If we release the TD or the LD, the smaller version, less expensive units, it’s going to kill the sales on the more expensive device.” It seems like a very valid argument and it’s the argument that carries the day with most companies. It just didn’t carry the day with us. We just knew that we had to go downmarket. So we went to less expensive versions of the FMX by number one, taking it off the motion platform, just setting it on the ground, and number two, taking away the capsule which turned it into an LD. But then we came up with the two desktops, the TD and the Jay which is that 2400-dollar unit. What’s notable about the product line though is that all of our products run the same technology and they all run the same add-on technologies that we’ve developed over the years. So Parrot, the artificial air traffic control and Cygnus, the connection for training the iPad applications and Scarlet and all those other technologies can be run on anyone of those machines. And you look at the Jay and you got the same sale cycle and it’s only 2400 dollars but then the Boeing Museum in Seattle comes along and they place an order for 10 at a time to go in the museum. So it’s really great stuff.
Chris: And I actually visited University of North Dakota before I came down to Redbird Migration and they actually had a Jay in the dorm in one of the flight specific dorms for the students to have there, so there are all sorts of different applications when you’re talking about that cheaper product model or that lower product model, maybe not cheaper but yeah.
Jerry: And the hours that that thing runs are really just remarkable. Because there are all kinds of different ways to use them and one of them is in competition, because they score themselves in levels of proficiency and accuracy. There’s nothing like getting right down to the meat of things, raw competition you know, to make people get active with that, something like that.
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Jerry: And then along the way, we bought a company in Indianapolis called Xwind. The company was building that Xwind trainer. And while it hasn’t been a huge product for us, what we got in that merger of the companies is some great engineering which was a really good move for us. We still have that manufacturing and engineering operation in Indianapolis.
Chris: Oh great. Yeah, I flew that crosswind trainer.
Jerry: It was fun huh?
Chris: It was fun. I screwed it up a whole lot. I think I only got it right once but it’s definitely challenging, and a unique product because really in a simulator, even a full motion like an FMX, as you know, it’s pretty much impossible to simulate that crosswind difficulty, so it’s unique that way, it’s pretty cool.
Jerry: Embry Riddle has one at both of their campuses and schools that run a lot of students through have those devices and they figured they’d save an undercarriage a semester so it pays for itself every semester. As a matter of fact if you take a 2-hour lesson in the crosswind trainer, you’d get 5% off on your insurance from Novenco.
Chris: There you go listeners.
Jerry: There you go. Want to save 5% on your insurance, go find a crosswind trainer and do 2 hours in it.
Chris: Alright, and then you guys have had, if you want to come back to simulators as well, Im kind of moving on more of the aircraft stuff now. You guys have also done something very unique with what people would call old and tired 172s, Cessna-172s, and I was able to fly one of these, but tell us about the RedHawk. Well, as we began to look at the continuum of what goes on, the economics of flight schools. Once we got the hardware figured out and we started to figure out what kind of curriculums we’re going to have to build to make all these work, we began to look a little broader at all the other problems including the cost of capital equipment. And at the time that we started that project, we were at CPC, we were part of that Cessna Pilot Center program in the laboratory we’ve got at San Marcos there, a laboratory school.
And when the price of 172s went over 360,000 dollars, and by the way, they’re over 400,000 dollars now, but when they hit 360,000 dollars, all the economics associated with operating in flight school with new airplanes went completely out the window. You can’t make it work. You can torture those numbers all you want to and it simply isn’t going to work. That kind of coincided with the difficulty that small businesses have now since 2008 in just getting a loan.
So we started to look at what other things we could do and we brought together a number of different companies, one of them was Continental to look at how can we take old airframes and create a new airplane with that old air frame and make the economics of operating it work, and so we took Continental’s diesel engine. Underlying the RedHawk is it’s a zero-time 172 and nothing that went on to the RedHawk, everything that went on to the RedHawk was already STC’d. So we figure if we’re going to do this kind of a project, we’re going to have to keep the FAA as far away from the project as we possibly can. So instead of certifying something completely new, we just said “Okay, what is available in the marketplace that we can put on this plane and make it perfect for a training environment?”
It was about getting the cost down and there was about 180,000-dollar delta between this zero-time beautifully done 172. It has a diesel engine which burns 4-1/2 gallons of Jet A an hour, and it has vinyl floors instead of carpet. It has vinyl seats instead of leather seats. It has all the things that the flight schools care about, easy to clean up, easy to maintain, a great FADEC engine that is impossible to [inaudible-0:39:19]. We have three of them that have been in the lab for quite a while now and each one of them has over 1,200 hours on. The most interesting statistic about that airplane is that between the hundred-hour inspections on the aircraft, we burned zero quarts of oil in those airplanes. They burn no oil at all. Well they’re Mercedes-Benz truck engines and you flew it, they’re as quiet as can be, they have no vibration in the aircraft. They’re just wonderful performers, they really are.
Chris: Oh geez, gas is 8-1/2 dollars here in Homer for a 100 low lead so that starts to make a lot of sense for an area like this.
Jerry: Yeah. What’s Jet A there?
Chris: Oh I don’t know, I’d have to look it up but it’s not even something you really think about right because this is kind of left field, this diesel engine thing these days with these trainer aircraft. I’ve never looked at Jet A before as a single engine piston guy but it starts to make a whole lot more sense when you’re burning fuel at that level at that low level and at that price, because Jet A is typically lower than 100 low lead.
Jerry: Well, it’s typically about 2 bucks a gallon lower. And of course, now with the EPA’s effort to get rid of leaded gasoline, the end is near for 100 low lead. And overseas, in Europe, the cost of avgas is astronomical and in Asia it’s not available in some places. So it’s a great airplane, it’s a lot of fun to fly. IT’s very simple. The run-up is you push one button, the engine does its own run-up. All the really wonderful things you’d like to have an in airplane.
Chris: Yeah, it was pretty wild. How many of these have you guys pushed out to the wild?
Jerry: Well, not as many as we’ve planned not because we don’t have the orders but because we are sweating, I think it’s 12 now, we’ve been sweating the details on these airplanes and we’ll continue to do that probably through serial number 30. We know that everytime turn an airplane out, somebody’s going to risk their life climbing into it and flying it around. The plan is in 2015 to build 100. I think we can get there. Two a week is pretty ambitious work. We’re getting the engines from, the engines are still being built in Germany. Continental is beginning the process of moving that, at least depoing the product to the US. Most of the issues that we’ve got now are inbound logistic issues. We happen to be specialists but when you try to apply consumer product logistics principles to building airplanes, everybody looks at you like you just got off a spaceship but we’re working on it. We’re getting there.
Chris: Well that sounds like a fantastic goal. So a RedHawk coming to an airport near you I suppose that’s the plan.
Jerry: Yup. Exactly right. I think we’re starting to see fleet orders now and we’re hoping for very small fleets. I think we got an order for a fleet of 8 recently. It’s really helping us but it’s a great airplane. What a great airframe, you know.
Chris: Yeah. I really liked it. I really enjoyed the flight and granted I just took one of your test flights there at Migration and I was only up for maybe 20 minutes but that engine just plugged right along. It sounds different too and just feels different. I just felt like I had, even though the horsepower wasn’t anything better than a lot of 172s out there, I just felt more connected to the airplane. I don’t know if that makes sense to you but it just felt a lot more elemental to me for some reason.
Jerry: Well it does and part of the reason is because the way it response, that’s part of it. The other part is it’s doesn’t seem to be trying to rattle itself off the airplane at anytime how engines do. One of the things that we got lucky with was [inaudible-0:44:07] joined the group and developed a propeller just for that engine. Propellers for diesel engines have a special problem and that is that the power stroke on a diesel engine is so much stronger than it is on a gas engine and if it isn’t built for it, they’ll snap off. They were able to develop an all-carbon fiber. So what we’ve had in diesel engines up to this point have been wooden propellers with plastic coating over them because it would absorb the shockwave. They developed an all-carbon fiber propeller which gave us a whole lot more horsepower because they were able to build a thinner, get better thrust off of it. But that’s the way the technology is coming and now we’re working on this project now along with George Bye and Bye Aerospace on this electric airplane, and by this time next year, we’ll be giving lessons in test flying the all-electric airplane out there.
Chris: Yeah. That’s a whole different subject in and of itself. Very exciting.
Chris: So we were sitting in a hangar there at Migration and the big hangar door opened up in front of the crowd and a 172 pulled up and started to offload a bunch of information. Tell us about the connected airplane.
Jerry: Okay. Well, first of all, that was the scariest demonstration we’ve ever given because all I could think about was the breaks were going to fail and this airplane is going to come in to this hangar with all these people standing in it. The breaks worked fine. The connected airplane is the way we essentially us a blackbox and we collect data during the flight. So we are collecting engine data, we’re collecting flight data and performance and we’re collecting it in very fine detail. Even G forces and wheel speeds, touchdowns, all the things you want to record in a flight. And when the airplane, as it begins to land and approaches the flight school, as soon as it gets within reach of the wireless connection at the flight school, it begins offloading all of that data. All the flight data, all the lessons, everything else.
And the data comes into the flight school and it splits off into billing so it can create an invoice for the student for that flight based on the hours it reported, goes off to the student pilot’s record because the student has an RF chip in their logbook and the system inside the airplane can identify who’s flying and it splits off into the aircraft logs. And so by the time the student and the instructor get into the building, all the data is already in there for them to review.
Jerry: And we’ve been talking about this for a long time as you know. The industry has been talking about it for a long time and it’s a remarkably simple process actually. We expect the blackboxes to be on the market by the spring and schools will be able to take advantage of this and we essentially just to have to automate the back end for the school.
Chris: Great. So we’ve talked about the RedHawks, we’ve talked about the connected airplane. What else is in the future here for Redbird?
Jerry: Well, we’ve been working, using a technology we developed called Trace. We’ve been working on new ways to deliver curriculum. The principle is this. There is nothing new to say about aviation training. Everything that can ever be said has already been said or written about. Airplanes fly the same way they did 20 years ago and 100 years ago whatever. But what’s different is the students are different and the technology is different such that we can now find more, we take the same data and find far more efficient ways to deliver the material and deliver it in very nonjudgmental environments that allow the students to operate and learn at their own pace.
And that’s what the Flying Cup Challenge last summer was all about. This international competition was run inside Redbird Simulators that allowed pilots, non-pilots and student pilots around the world to compete with one another on three different maneuvers. And the reason we did it was to show the industry that you could take the non-pilots that have never been in an airplane before, put them into a simulator by themselves and 20 minutes later are flying perfect lazy-8s, I mean better lazy-8s than most instructors can fly frankly. And that technology is now being delivered around the world to our simulator, our thousand plus simulators around the world for schools to use and allowing students to go without an instructor and get proficient at these various maneuvers.
Now over time, that expands to IFR training and commercial maneuvers and ground school, ground school activities like the QR-coded airplane where you take your iPad, you walk up to an airplane and it tells you what you’re looking at at that point out of the preflight. That then morphs into a new generation of simulators, portable simulators, essentially mentors that go with the pilot from the simulator right into the airplane to assist as a coach and as a co-pilot. That’s where the technology is headed. You can think of simulators, five years from now simulators will be very different in that instead of the simulator actually creating the environment as such, this simulator will be carried around by the pilot on his iPad or something of that form and what you identify as the simulator is simply an appliance that that portable simulator attaches to and drives. So think it almost as an accessory, a dumb accessory that plugs into the simulator you carry around with you. And it’s coming faster than you think.
Chris: Yeah. I can see a lot of people actually really enjoying that, my customers specifically, because we have a lot of like you said this generation, a lot of younger kids that want to get into flying, maybe they don’t have the opportunity to go out and actually fly a real airplane yet but they can have the ability to maybe even afford going out to someone with a Redbird and starting with them and I can just see that being so valuable and cost-effective, to really get them into it and really kind of answer one of the questions in making flight training more accessible which is increasing this, well rather decreasing the barriers to getting into training and therefore kind of reversing this trend of the declining student population for new flight students basically so I can see that being very useful and something that people would enjoy.
Jerry: Well, that’s exactly right. That’s what Dr. Marinelli at Carnegie Mellon was saying is what you’re seeing flying into the flight schools now are digital natives. This is that generation we call digital natives. They aren’t dumber than we were when we were kids and they aren’t any stranger. They just interact with technology in a different way and they learn in a different way. They obviously interact with technology better than most of us. If we don’t build for the way they learn and want to learn, you’re not throwing up a four-inch book on the table and say read this anymore. If you don’t that, you’ll lose them.
One of those excuses for the decline in aviation that drives me the most crazy is when people say “Well, the reason there aren’t as many people going into aviation is because there are more things to do now than when we were kids” and that is a complete lie. There aren’t more things to do, there are better things to do. We have to make aviation better for teaching the way people are learning now. We aren’t going to solve this problem. Redbird will not solve this problem but we’ll contribute to our little piece of it if we can and everybody else is going to do the same thing.
Chris: Right. And kind of what we talked about earlier, those flight schools that aren’t keeping up to the current trends are going to go by the wayside. If they’re just doing things the same old way they’ve always done is the definition of insanity right? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. It’s not going to change unless there’s a concerted effort by that. That’s what was very encouraging to me about Migration was that I was suddenly in this space of like-minded people because I too, I’m sure you’re the same way in a lot of ways like me where I kind of beat my head against the wall and try to think why are we training this way? Obviously it’s not effective. Let’s do something different here. It’s very encouraging to see.
Jerry: I appreciate that. We’re cognizant to the fact that we don’t have all the answers and we may not even be chasing the right answer but we’re chasing something and we’re going to try this. We don’t go discouraged by failures. If we did, we had quit a long time ago.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. Alright, so we’re coming up kind of against our time limit here but it was fantastic to have you on the show. Any final thoughts for our listeners? You can even tell them where to check you out, things like that.
Jerry: Well, RedbirdFlightSimulations is the website and all the products are out there. I think that I would encourage the listeners to pay a little more attention to the notion of the new ways of training. I think the notion of the digital native and the kinds of things that we’re going to have to do to make flight training work for people in this generation and the way people want to learn and start taking advantage of the technology is if we can get everybody focused on that, I think we’re going to be fine and I do. We also know that one of these days, somebody is going to come along and knock us off and we’re fine with that too because that means they came up with a better solution than we had. But you got to have faith. It’s going to work out. We’re going to get this fixed.
Chris: And if someone wants to find Redbird, even just kind of go check out your guys’ simulators, you can go to RedbirdFlightSimulations.com. Go to Find a Redbird and you can basically find one near you because really, seeing is believing here to kind of see what you guys have built into these simulators and that’s not only from the actual great full motion platform that you guys have but also the technology that’s inside like the Trace that you were talking about and Scarlet and some of those other things.
Jerry: Right, thanks. And you’d be surprised how many we’ve got in Alaska.
Chris: Yeah. I know, I just looked up, you got a couple. Now, I only looked within a 500 nautical mile radius. I don’t know what’s up in Fairbanks.
Jerry: We got a lot. University of Alaska is one of our biggest customers.
Chris: They’re here so I’ll go check those guys out soon. That was actually a plan of mine to go meet with them. It’s great having you on the show. I really appreciate your thoughts and I’m looking forward and I’m sure I speak for everyone else, I’m looking forward to what Redbird has in store for the future, so we’re all excited about it.
Jerry: Thanks Chris. I appreciate the time.
Chris: No problem. Thanks for coming on the show Jerry.
Alright, so a huge thanks goes out to Jerry Gregoire from Redbird Simulations for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. I really love the startup story of Redbird because Jerry and his buddies got together and said “Hey, these simulations are terrible. They’re really not adding to the quality of training. We aren’t in this environment,” and they went out and they did something about it. They got instant feedback and then they got into making more simulators and everything started to happen from there. What I saw when I went to Redbird was a bunch of people getting together and saying “What can we do to improve flight training?” And that is one of my favorite questions when it comes to this line of work because I do feel that there is so much more we can do to immerse students in the decision-making and the human factors and improving their skills in so many different areas of learning to fly that there are definitely ways we can do it better today.
Redbird is definitely leading the way in many different areas in that sense but they are also starting the conversation or at least having the conversation with many different people. I had a lot of conversations at Redbird that weren’t between me and Redbird but rather between me and other like-minded people where we were talking about what can we do to improve flight training? So that is probably the core thing that I really love about Redbird and why I identify with them. Now, I’m not tooting their horn, I’m not getting paid to say any of these stuff. I’m just saying that I really enjoy the energy that I have when I’m around Redbird and when I speak to people like Jerry and some of the other staff that he has and when I look into the kind of initiatives that they have with the RedHawk and the connected airplane and with the great simulators that they have, a lot of the things that they’re just trying to do to get people in aviation. Even talking about the Flying Challenge Cup is another things that they’ve done.
These guys are doing a fantastic job and above and beyond that, I challenge you that if you are an aviation educator or you are even a student that you challenge the status quo, that you say to yourself “It doesn’t have to be this expensive. There don’t have to be these large, large barriers to me getting to flight training” and go out there and look or people that are going things differently. Redbird is one of those. We talked to Rick Todd a while back on the show and he talked about things that he’s doing in Chicago to improve things there. I know there are people in almost every part of the country that are forward-thinking in trying to make flight training more accessible for more people. So it’s out there. You don’t have to have all of these barriers in front of you. It is definitely possibly for you to get to your license.
Now, that may mean that simulation becomes a large part of your training but that is what this show is all about. AviatorCast, we talk a whole lot about bridging the gap between flight simulation and real aviation because the two can help each other so much, I challenge you to again challenge the status quo and continue to look for areas of improvement not only if you are an aviation educator but also if you are a student pilot looking to get your license or continue your training. So again, big thanks goes out to Jerry for joining us on this show. I look forward to joining Redbird next year at the Migration and to see what they continue to do with their initiatives. So again, thanks Jerry and we’ll be talking to you again soon.
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