AviatorCast Episode 20: Hangar Talk w/ Keith Smith: PilotEdge | ATC | Radio Communication | Aviation English


Today’s Flight Plan

Today we are joined by Keith Smith of PilotEdge. PilotEdge is a flight simulation ATC service that has ATC on during certain hours. Professional staffed, consistent, and very immersive.

This software is huge for those facing Mic Fright, wanting to learn aviation english, practing within the IFR system or adding another layer to their simulators for a more believable and intense scenario based training.

I’m certainly going give this a shot! I hope you do too!

Useful Links

PilotEdge Twitch Channel
VATSIM (for comparison)


Keith Smith

Huge thanks to Keith for joining us on this show and telling us more about PilotEdge. It certainly sounds like an awesome platform that I’m sure many of us will Jones’n to try. Thanks Keith! We wish you incredible success!


Big thanks to Atrasolis for providing the great music for our podcast. Please check them out on their Facebook Page or SoundCloud and get the music you’ve heard for free.


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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Chris: This is AviatorCast episode 20, running on 100 low lead!
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. I love all things flying and all things flight simulation. All you have is do is see my shelf of aviation books and souvenirs, my flight simulator itself, or my noseprint on the window of any commercial flight that I take while on vacation or otherwise. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight simulation 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 artform, 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. Each episode of AviatorCast will have a real flight training and flight simulation topic or an interview with an inspirational and influential aviator. Our desire and mission is not only to create awesome aviators but also bridge the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Show notes, transcript, community discussion, and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So thank you for joining us on this, the 20th episode of AviatorCast. It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to have you here with us, and we hope that you find a little nugget of information or inspiration to take with you as you continue your love and journey with this love for flying things that we all have. So one of the ways that people reach out to us here at Angle of Attack and share with us how much they love AviatorCast is through reviewing on iTunes. At the beginning of each episode, we have a review from iTunes. This one comes from Andy Furlong from Canada and he says “Inspiring, five stars. I listen to most of the podcasts and enjoyed the professional informative approach. What pleases me most of all is the inspiration the podcast give me. I’m not a pilot but I’d like to be. I’ve taken a few lessons in the past and I’m an aviation fan, so every podcast fix is more motivation. If I ever had the money and time, please know that AOA helped inspire me to get my pilot’s license.”
Thank you for leaving that review for us Andy Furlong. It means a lot, and I do hope that someday, you get to be a bonified, certified private pilot. That would be absolutely fantastic and it’s one of the greatest things that you will ever do in your life. So if you want to leave a review after the show, if you feel that this is something that you love, you can do that on iTunes. Pretty easy. I’m sure you can figure it out. So on this episode of AviatorCast, we’re going to be talking to Keith Smith. Keith runs a company called PilotEdge. If you are a private pilot or a student pilot and you are struggling with the all feared mic fright and you are having difficulty on the radios, or say English is your second language and you are struggling with talking on the radios because of that, or you are a professional pilot and you want kind of another immersive layer of realism in your simulation even if you have level D simulators, PilotEdge is essentially a program that does that. They connect you to a virtual world that has professional controllers that are staffed 15 hours a day basically. They are there during basic work hours and simulator hours and so you can basically get in and you can have what is professional air traffic control just like the real world in your simulator and it is absolutely really, really cool, and just this whole layer or realism that you can add to your simulator.
There’s a lot of great little details about what PilotEdge does, it’s better than other stuff, and they’re just a really great program, kind of up and coming, and really making waves. I’m not going to delay us any further. Let’s get into this hangar talk with Keith Smith of PilotEdge.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are privileged to have Keith Smith from PilotEdge with us today. How are you Keith?
Keith: I’m well. Privileged huh?
Chris: Yeah, very privileged, because we are going to talk about the groundbreaking tools that you have not only for flight simulation but for flight training especially, so I’m really excited about this episode. You and I have been talking for really several years back and forth and we’ve never really collaborated on anything, and I’m not sure if we’ll fully collaborate on something soon but at least we’re getting the ball rolling here with kind of an interview on AviatorCast. It’s great to have you here, and just to start of, I want to know a little bit more about you or at least have our listeners learn a little bit about you. So tell us first of all how you fell in love with aviation and then we want to hear about who you are, where you’re from, maybe your family a little bit, stuff like that. So why don’t we start off with that, how you fell in love with aviation.
Keith: Alright. If I could before that, thank you very much for having me on the show. I have been following along for a couple of years and I agree with you, it’s probably high time that we do try and get some stuff done together. I think it could be a very cool fit, but thanks for having me on the show. I do appreciate it.
Chris: No problem, yeah.
Keith: Okay, so a little bit about me. I fell in love with aviation as a kid. I’m no longer. I’ve just realized I just turned 40 in late May, so about a week ago. I fell in love at about the age of 8 I would say. I started getting exposed to it around the age of 7. My dad worked for an airline and we started travelling a lot, and I spent a lot of time in airports looking at airplanes, looking at how the whole airport system worked and just found that absolutely fascinating. And then a friend of my father introduced me Microsoft Flight Simulator 2 by subLOGIC on the Commodore-64. Some of your listeners probably don’t know what a Commodore-64 is but some of them might. It’s like a computer, only a lot slower. You got really good at flying IFR very, very quickly because VFR was not really possible because everything was back to graphics and there was no technalism. You’re in IMC almost immediately. So I got to trust my instruments very, very quickly because that’s about you all had. You couldn’t really fly VFR. So he showed me just how to operate the primary flight controls. He himself had no idea how to navigate so I had to teach myself on navigation, I had a copy of the manual and I basically taught myself just by reading about that stuff and though trial and error. It’s a very organic way of learning how to fly and unlike a lot of people, it was not based on real flying necessarily, it was based on simulators, so my love of aviation started with simulators with some exposure to flying just as a passenger but it wasn’t until much, much later that I actually started flying full size airplanes.
My first two flights in a Cessna-172 resulted in me redecorating the interior with my lunch every time, literally five times and I felt “Wow, flying is just not for me. Flying in small planes, I guess I’m not cut out to be a pilot,” and I kind of gave up on it for about 10 years or so. I didn’t try it again. It wasn’t until I moved to the States, at that time I was in Australia, and it wasn’t until I moved to the States that a colleague of mine said he was a flight instructor, “You know what, I’d be happy to teach you how to fly. You seem to love it.” I said “No, I kind of been there, done that. Flying small planes is not for me. I get really hot and sick really quickly. He goes “There’s a new plane that just came out, the Diamond DA20 Katana.” This is the precursor to the Eclipse which everybody now flies. And he said “I bet that might be different for you.” So I said “Well, I’m willing to give it a try,” and we went up on a smooth morning in December of 1996, I think it was, about 7 in the morning at San Carlos Airport in California, and it was dead smooth. I had a great view. There was an overcast layer about 5000 so it wasn’t particularly sunny, and there wasn’t a single bump on the entire flight.
And within about 20 seconds, I’m like “Holy cow, this is actually really, really fun” and then within about 10 minutes I realized “Okay, I need to get really serious about doing this. This is incredibly fun.” I’m not getting sick and I fell in love with flying full size planes right there and then. So that’s how it all totally came together. But it started with simulation and moved in to full size. But I haven’t abandoned simulation. I still love sims just as much as I did when I was 7, and I’m still actively simulating now.
Chris: Yeah definitely. I would say that you’re simulating a lot more than I am. I see you on your network on Twitch and stuff, just going out and doing some work. So how far did you go into your actual training?
Keith: I went as far as my private for single engine land and complete my instrument and that’s about as far as I’ve taken. I’ve got about 650 or so hours total time and about 450 of that is in a Lancair 360 which I currently own and operate, and that’s my ride for doing PilotEdge works so I travel around country in that little monster and that’s a great way of staying sharp as well. I use simulation to stay sharp, I also use it for entertainment as well. So if you’ve been following my Twitch stream, you’ve probably seen that I’ve been flying some military stuff and recently gliding and flying helicopters as well.
Chris: Great. Awesome, awesome. Good to have that background so we can kind of have a different conversation too along the way. Tell us just a little bit about your family, just brief us on that. How many kids you have, that sort of thing.
Keith: Sure. At last count, I have two kids. Got a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, that’s Ruby and Trey, a boy and a girl. Trey wants to become a helicopter pilot. I’m trying to talk him out of that, because he doesn’t understand the concept of finances yet. I can’t think of a faster way to burn through it than to get a helicopter going. Little Ruby is very enamored with flying. She’s got a little pink headset, a booster seat and she’s gone up with me on the Lancair about four or five times and she absolutely loved it. I’m married as well. My wife is not as much into flying. She kind of tolerates it but she knows it makes me very happy.
Chris: Good, good. Good woman.
Keith: She is. Let me tell you, starting PilotEdge with two little kids, the timing was not fantastic I got to be honest but she’s hung in there.
Chris: Yeah. Biggest support crew there. I can’t remember what it was I told my wife a few weeks ago. It was something cute and fluffy because you got to say those sort of things to your wife, but I think I said something along the lines of she was my best co-pilot ever, something like that.
Keith: Nice. Can I write that one down?
Chris: But it’s definitely true, that huge support.
Keith: Oh without question.
Chris: Okay. So we’re kind of going to split up our conversation here a little bit. We’re going to try to… I focus on try because it probably won’t happen. We’re going to try to focus some of the conversation on flight simulation and then some of the conversation on flight training just to kind of split it up a little bit because they are two different topics here, but all of which will be related to basically your company which is PilotEdge. Why don’t we just start off with an introduction of PilotEdge and I’ll just kind of let you go with that and just talk about the system and kind of the differences there, and I’ll interject and ask some questions and stuff but I’ll just kind of let you have at it and let everyone know what PilotEdge is.
Keith: Okay, you bet. As you know, we’ve been talking for a couple of days a little bit and once I get going on this, I can really go, so at any point, feel free to interject. I won’t be offended at all if you need to cut me off and we’ll work with it. Okay, so PilotEdge is a network which provides air traffic control for flight simulators, and that sounds very high level and vague and that’s actually intentional. We don’t say that it’s for a particular market, we don’t say it’s for student pilots or for enthusiasts at home or for the military. It is one platform that is built for all of those things really and then more. It’s similar to other networks that have been built before but it also has some fundamental differences. But the general premise is simulation is fantastic. The thing that it’s been missing from the dawn of simulation is the interaction with other traffic and air traffic control. It turns out that interacting with air traffic control is a major learning hurdle during primary training, and then after primary training, it’s simply one of the pieces of workload that you have to manage during a flight.
So anytime you’re doing flight simulation for any serious training task, there is a good chance that it could benefit from the presence of having air traffic control as well as traffic because all of that adds to the workload. So we believe very strongly in that and that was the premise with starting up PilotEdge. We provide the ATC through voice over IP and over the internet. You connect to anyone of the supported platforms, whether it’s Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane or a high end commercial sim or even custom simulators. All of those connect to our network, our voice server, and then you’re interacting with our controllers in whichever part of the service area you’re currently flying. That’s how it works at the 30,000-foot view.
Chris: Great. And so basically, explain it to me as if I were signing up today. I’m going to go and I’m going to download some software and connect. Kind of walk me through that however many that process briefly.
Keith: Okay, no worry. So you go to PilotEdge.net. You click the join button, enter your first name, last name email address, that creates the account. Hit the two-week free trial. It is a paid system. That’s one of the big differences with other systems. It is subscription-based network. We can talk about the reasons why that is but just staying on track with the process for a minute. Once your account is credited, you log into the website with the email and password that was assigned to you, and download the software for whichever simulator it is you’d like to use, whether it’s Microsoft Flight Sim 2004, Microsoft FSX. In about two or three weeks from now, we’ll have the PD3 Client released as well, X-Plane 8, 9, or 10, all of those are supported platforms. You download the software, install it, and that acts as a bridge between your simulator running on your computer, and our network, and the software at a simple level is just extracting data from your simulator really fast and pushing it out to our server so we get your latitude, longitude, altitude heading roll pitch, all sorts of information about what your plane is doing, whether the gear is down, what the flight controls are doing, what the lights are doing. We get all of that data, push it out to our server, and then our server pushes that information to all of the other people who are connected within your area, so it’s smart enough who’s nearby and who isn’t so it doesn’t flood everybody with data about planes that they can’t even see, and that’s how the whole thing kind of hangs together. You’re pushing data to the server and likewise, the server is pushing data about everybody else to you, and that allows your simulator to then inject the traffic. If you say “Hey Bob rock your wings” and you’re following three planes, well when Bob rocks his wings and you’ll see that plane rock his wings. Or if Bob’s got his lights on or his gear down, you’ll see all of that as well.
We’ve been making a lot of leaps in that area in terms of visual systems. We’ve gotten feedback from our users and just watching videos of people fly, people like to fly in formation. They like to watch other planes land. They like to see the gear come up and down and the flaps go up and down and the lights go on and off. As much as they seem like sort of trivial eye-candy, they actually do add to the emotion quite a bit, and so that’s a big part of it as well, seeing the traffic. And of course the radio has to work too, so we have a very comprehensive radio system. There is no text on this network. That was a contrast decision. We’re not sending text messages to controllers. You’re speaking over the radio, you’re tuning the radio to appropriate frequencies. There is no controller list so you don’t actually see which controllers are online in certain positions. You simply pull out the real world charts and say “Okay, I want to talk to Long Beach Tower,” that will be 119.4, you call them up, and you say “Long Beach Tower, Cessna 1234 Alpha Bravo, five miles southeast, landing with alpha,” and you don’t know or care which one of our controllers is working Long Beach Tower just like you wouldn’t in the real world. You don’t know if it’s Jim or Bob working it. You certainly don’t have to look to see if they’re online, and the fact that Jim or Bob might also be working Long Beach Ground as well as Long Beach Clearance is something you also don’t care about. So we do have controllers working multiple positions just like in real life but that’s mostly hidden from the user. You simply dial the frequency and go. So that was the experience we wanted to build. We want to make us close to the real experience of flying an airplane as we possibly could.
Chris: Great. So say that I’m in basically any industry. I’m in an airline and on a level D simulator, I’m at a flight school and in one of their FTDs or a Redbird, I’m at my own home with my own simulator or any number of different simulators, just let me summarize here. So basically I connect to your network through the client and then from there it’s all transparent. I basically load up at the airport with my simulator, and I fly as I would fly everyday. I start at the avionics and I contact ground and I do it in the frequency that’s on the chart. I hear someone on the other end, I comply with their commands. I’m taxing out to the runway and I see other traffic out there taxing around, I hear other instructions on the radio and I just listen to those instructions just in case there’s other traffic in the area I need to be watching out for all that sort of things. So really, just like you said, it’s traffic and ATC and it all does… I like the features you talked about so far. It all does so transparently so it’s just like the real world and really you don’t really even think about the fact that is there a controller there, you just kind of key up the mic and they’ll be there.
Now, we’ll talk a little bit more about the details later. I think we’ll wrap the show up that way, kind of cost per month sort of stuff and the details of hours and the locations where you offer this service because obviously it’s something you can’t offer the entire world because that would be such a vast network that is just not feasible for something like this.
Keith: Yeah. I can’t think of a fast way to have my wife leave me than to say “Hey honey, guess what, we’re going to have to sell the house and the children and three of my organs to pay for staffing the entire world.”
Chris: Yeah, no kidding. It would just be probably half the US or something.
Keith: Right.
Chris: So, we’ve kind of covered that. Was my summary pretty much correct as far as you’re concerned?
Keith: Yes, it is bang-on. A good analogy would be when I send you an email, you don’t say “Oh look, he used Firefox or Thunderbird or Outlook or Gmail to send that. You don’t know, you just receive an email. That’s the idea of client server. You abstract a lot of this information and it’s just a contract between the client and the server, and as long as you’re abiding by that contract, you don’t have to know or care exactly what the nature of that device was. So when you look the window when you’re flying on PilotEdge, the planes that are flying around could be anyone on the devices you just described, and you actually listed it. That was a very accurate list that you brought up. It’s pretty good range of devices, and we have all of those, so Redbird Simulators and other AATDs, Elite simulators, flight sim, precision flight controls, all of those are supported. We also have some custom sims that have been integrated, so there’s citation CJ3 level 6 FTD, I know that’s a lot of verbiage but it’s a flight training device just short of the full motion version. Same flight model, also same data model. Very, very high end sim, multimillion dollar sim, and that flies on our network as well. And when you look out the window, you won’t be able to tell that it’s not some guy in his laptop other than the audio sounding really, really cool because they’re going through some pretty high-end intercoms that sound pretty much like real radios.
You look out the window, you see and avoid the traffic, and you actually made a good point before which is when you’re talking to ground, you don’t just listen to the radio calls and say “Okay, was that for me, yes or no? Okay if it’s not for me then I’m just going to ignore it and keep taxing.” You still kind of keep an ear open not just for your callsign but you’re keeping an ear open to build a picture of what’s going on around the airport. So if you’re, this applies especially in the air and traffic pattern, if you’re clear to land number one and then you suddenly hear a pilot check in and say “Hey, run a right base from runway 21,” and let’s say you’re in the left base for 21 and you’ve been cleared to land, and that’s how kind it sounds “Okay, runway 21 clear to land,” to that other guy, you need to know that and you need to say “Hey, can you verify we’re still number one?” That’s a skill that you build over time. Most student pilots flat out don’t have skill. They just don’t get exposed to flying with ATC enough to have built up that situational awareness. And so we wanted all of that too, so it’s not just about practicing, getting good at talking on the radio, that’s a very small part of it.
It’s obviously the low-hanging fruit, right? Talking on the radio, no brainer. We can help you get better at that. But anytime you’re flying on any network with online ATC, whether it’s PilotEdge or Vatsim, any other network, you are helping build your situational awareness and that skill of listening to what’s going on, if you’re doing it properly anyway.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. And all of the aspects you’ve talked about so far, just having traffic there and having air traffic control there, let alone all the intricacies with the traffic that you guys have in that you can see the lights turning off and the gear coming up and the flaps moving, all that sort of stuff, all of that does add to the immersion and believability of the simulation. Really at the end of the day, a really good simulation tricks your mind into thinking it’s real where while you were doing those procedures or practicing, you forget that this is not the real world. Another one of those great things is emotion component which isn’t part of your business but it’s one of those things that could be kind of brushed off to say, “Oh well, you know, really it’s the procedures the FAA cares about. They don’t necessarily care so much about the talking in the radio, at least not in the complex form, so I can kind of brush that off and not worry about it. I really just need to go fly the airplane.” But the truth is that if you’re planning on using your pilot’s license, you’re going to be flying in the real world. You’re going to be going from point A to point B and you’re going to be dealing with somebody. These are things you just absolutely have to know and things that just add to the immersion, so I think that sells itself really.
Keith: Absolutely. Also keeps you interested in the sim. Most pilots I speak to, they have trouble taking the sim uber-seriously. When they’re just flying by themselves and they don’t anything about online ATC, some of the guys tell me, it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes before they’re just doing loops and barrel rolls and having a good ol’ laugh. They have trouble taking it really, really seriously, and an kind of online ATC, whether it’s PilotEdge again or other systems, they help keep you honest. They help prep you up a little bit, and if you haven’t planned that flight properly and you start waltzing through some other person’s airspace that you shouldn’t be in, if you start transitioning a Charlie or Bravo that you should be in, you’ll hear about it. It is a form of checks and balances or it’s a way of keeping you honest with your flying that you just don’t get when you’re flying by yourself. So if you have the idea of just jumping on the sim and shooting an approach, that’s great, you might nail the approach, but if you then jump in the airplane the try and do the same thing, there are any number of things you might get wrong that weren’t exposed in your offline simulated flight but they might have been exposed in your online simulated flight. So it’s a way of really staying proficient and making that sim experience a whole lot closer to what it means to fly the airplane, and you had a good point before when you say that anytime you trick your brain into thinking you’re flying, then the simulation is doing really, really well. From the feedback we’ve gotten over the last few years is that adding ATC in traffic is one of the best things you can do to bring the simulation much, much closer to the experience of flying plane.
Chris: Yeah, I totally agree. Now, let’s spend a little time kind of in the flight simulation umbrella and I really do just want to spend a little more time here because I feel like the biggest advantage to your network and the way I just personally, I mean, I’m not the professional her, but the way personally I see your business really growing and taking off is in the flight training market. So I just want to spend a little time in flight simulation. The biggest thing I think the listeners are going to want to know is why will I choose or should I choose PilotEdge over Vatsim, and so I’m going to kind of let you have a battle out here with Vatsim and tell us why PilotEdge is better than Vatsim. At the end of the day, I think that if you’re serious about your simulations and you’re serious about doing things realistically, one is definitely better than the other, but I’m going to let you make that argument, so why don’t you go ahead with that.
Keith: Well you know, I think I’m probably going to surprise you. You asked a direct question which is why is PilotEdge better than Vatsim, and this might surprise you but I’m going to say it’s not. It’s not that we’re better than Vatism. We’re not a replacement for Vatsim and I say that because I controlled on Vatsim for over 4000 hours and flew that for 1500 hours. I know what it’s good at and what it’s not good at doing, and PilotEdge is not going to be a 100% drop-in replacement for Vatsim. However, it is different and it offers something different, so I think the answer to the question is it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a fun, hobbyist environment where the ATC presence is nice to have but not a must-have and the quality of that ATC when they are present is not really that important to you, if you really honestly can’t tell the difference between perfect ATC or very close to perfect ATC and ATC that’s all over the place, sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not great. If you really can’t discern the difference between those or you just don’t care, then Vatsim is actually the right choice for you because that coverage area is global, it’s kind of fun, it’s relaxed, and it doesn’t cause you any money. In that regard, Vatsim has some big advantages. However, if you don’t feel that you can live without ATC or if the presence of ATC is important to you, the quality of the ATC is important to you, so if you requested VFR on top or a cruise clearance or a true clearance or VFR practice approaches or full approaches on an MDB approach or vectors to final on a precision or non-precision approach, blah blah blah, it goes on and on and on, we can do all of that all day long. And so if you need that quality experience each and everytime you fly, then we have some real advantages.
That’s where we are really coming to our own because no other networks as far as I know provide that capability of saying “Okay, between these hours, and it’s 15 hours a day,” this is probably the right time to measure it, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Pacific time, that might actually be changing soon and expanding by another 2 hours, but right now it’s 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, you look at your clock and at 8 a.m. Pacific time, you go “Okay, PilotEdge is online” and you fire up your sim and you go. And my experience with flying on Vatsim was just never like that. You always have to find out who is online, find out if they were going to stay there and inevitably you would either lose the controller during the flight or the quality of the ATC just wasn’t what you were looking for, or there’s nobody there to begin with, it doesn’t take much for the experience to break down, and again what does that matter? There really isn’t a yes or no answer to that. It really depends on how important that is to you. The feedback we got from a lot of people was “Okay, thank goodness. Finally now I can use this sim at home. I do care about ATC.” I want it that everytime I fly or at least on a predictable basis, and that’s what we offer, that’s probably the big ones. Acouple of technical differences, the ones that matter the most in my mind, the radio system is completely, different. So on Vatsim and virtually every other network, you have the concept of the controller list. You find out who’s online, where they’re working. You can pretty much never use real world charts to lock up frequencies, you have to see who’s online. If you’re flying in Chicago and you’re at the midway airport, forget looking for midway clearance, they’re not just going to be there unless some massive event that’s focusing on it. So instead you got to work your way up to the tree, is it ground, is it tower, is it approach. Okay, there are six approaches online, which one do I call? You’re using a bunch of skills that have no applicability in real life. You are not doing what a real pilot would be doing. And so we tried to make an experience that was different where you just enter the right frequency.
Voice CTAF is also not there, so if you’re doing operations at non-towered airports. I’m guessing you’ve flown up at a good number of non-towered airports but 1228 and 1229 and 1227, those are really busy frequencies and that’s a skill in and of itself, is non-towered ops. And so we have a range-limited voice CTAF as well. So when you start down low, you’re only going to hear other airplanes that are nearby and on the same frequency, but as you climb higher, every 3 seconds, we’ll reevaluate how far you can hear, and once you get to 1000 feet or 2000 feet above the ground, you’re going to be hearing planes from 40, 50 miles away, and the CTAF will suddenly start getting busy at decent traffic levels. The last main difference is that on Vatsim, you never, never hear a traffic call that says “Cessna Alpha Bravo, traffic 10 o’clock five miles eastbound, altitude 3500 [inaudible-00:31:17].” That’s a call you hear all day long in the real world because so many planes are flying around not talking with ATC, squawking VFR and not talking to anyone, so ATC hasn’t confirmed their altitude readout, and so you’re just getting those generic point outs. Well, after flying for 1500 hours on Vatsim and controlling for 4000 hours, I’ve never heard it and I don’t think I’ve ever said it, because every single person that’s flying is in the system because they’re there to fly in the system. You just don’t get the guy squawking VFR not talking to anyone. Also you don’t get a whole lot of VFR traffic to begin with. At least in my experience it’s the heavy jets going LA to Vegas and LA to New York. Everyone wants to fly that 73s and 74s and 75s, so you tend to get a lot of those. That traffic distribution is not particularly realistic either.
So we wanted something where when you look out the window, the sky is full of planes and some of them are not talking to ATC, so we implemented that with a drone system and this drone system has applicability to all of our markets, and everyone we talk to is very, very excited about that capability which is what we have about 350 planes flying around in class Echo and Gulf as best 24/7 as best and that’s squawking VFR and not talking to anyone. So when you look at the window, you see lights and traffic out there and ATC will point them out to you. If you’re IFR at a John Wayne for example and you’re in a jet, you might not get climbed any higher than 5000 because we’ve got like Barons and King Airs and stuff like that overflying the airspace at 5500 feet not talking to anyone. So ATC can’t control them, so instead they have to keep the IFR guys at a lower altitude until the IFR guys can see those planes or they’re at least separated from them. And what that all translates to is a much richer experience and more workload for the pilot because you thought you were going to climb up to 6000, you’re all set to set the autopilot for the climb up to 13000 or 8000 whatever it is, and all of a sudden ATC is asking you to spot traffic, so you got to look up from the panel, “No, I don’t say him.” “Okay well, maintain 5000 we’ll get you higher when we can” and now you’re going to level off and pull the power back and all of that. It’s not just a cutesy thing to have an online map that’s impressive because it’s full of planes, it’s really again, it all comes down to adding workload, and so that’s… I think I’ve gone through all the differences. The other traffic, the radio system, the visual system is different but the big ones have got to be the presence and predictability of that ATC and the quality of the ATC.
Chris: Yeah definitely. That was always my biggest gripe with Vatsim. At the end of the day, Vatsim is free. For those of you who don’t know what Vatsim is, it’s Virtual Air Traffic Simulation. It’s a free network that you can connect to. But my gripe with Vatsim was always that wherever I wanted to fly, because usually I wanted to fly not based on who is covering an area but based on a specific route whether that’s Anchorage to Memphis or some long hull route. But you could never count on having that route covered in a realistic unless it was some big event. And then if it was a big event, then you’re talking about an overwhelming experience. It is really a different experience than Vatsim usually, we’re talking about 2% of the time maybe they’re having events, and so it’s so different that everyone else is kind of overwhelmed, pilots that maybe aren’t experienced enough in the network and stuff like that. Like you said, it comes to a crawl really quickly and for me as a real pilot, I had experiences and things that just really turned me off to the whole idea and eventually I stopped flying on there as often as I would have liked to just because of that.
But you know, on the flipside of that, and I don’t want to rail on Vatsim or anything, but on the flipside of that, I had some great experience as well. I remember one of the first times or rather in the infancy of kind of my simulation days, I was so flying the 767 in Russia and I did this long haul to Moscow and someone popped on that frequency in Moscow and so I get on the radio with this guy and we can barely understand each other. The reason I love that was because it was so realistic it made me feel like I was there and I got this shiver up my spine like “Wow, this is so cool.” That’s just an experience, it goes back to the immersion and that’s definitely something that your software does or your service with the predictability and quality and all of the other aircraft there, so that’s really what your network provides on a continuous basis or rather while your hours are actually up, and I actually didn’t know about that CTAF frequency. That was another gripe I had with Vatsim and I love that. That is awesome that you guys simulated that as well.
Keith: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. You can tune to any frequency you like and it can even be an ATIS technically. And let’s say you’re too far away to receive that ATIS, if you and your buddy are tuned in to the Anchorage ATIS for argument’s sake and you’re really, really, really far away from Anchorage, you’ll actually be able to talk to each other on that frequency, so it’s very much like the real radio. The fact that that should be an ATIS frequency and at some point if you get close enough to Anchorage, you’re going to have a hard time hearing your buddy because you will be hearing the Anchorage ATIS. The system doesn’t know or care. It allows you to transmit on any frequency you want. So by virtue of that, we get CTAF capability. But when I saw we have CTAF, people then think “Okay you can only transmit on the CTAFs. If I go to some other frequency, the radio doesn’t work the same way and it’s actually not the case. It’s just a killer radio system. Any frequency you go to, it just behaves like a real radio which means we get CTAF out of that for free.
Chris: Great.
Keith: You brought up two really good things before we move on. One is that you said that you had some really great flights on Vatsim. I think that’s important to point out. You can have great flights. If you couldn’t, then I wouldn’t have stuck around there for as long as I did. On a good day, it really does amazing things, it really, really does and it really did help me with my instrument rating and my private pilot for sure, but I also knew how to get the most out of the system. I was a controller there, I was friends with a bunch of controllers, so I would control for my friends. If they were going to fly and vice-versa. I’d say “Hey is anyone available?” a bunch of people would jump on and control for me, so we sort of gave each other special treatment and we knew how to get the most of the system. Most people don’t have that luxury so they’re not likely to get as good an experience on a repeatable basis, and I think that’s what frustrated me was that I would have a great flight, then I would try and go to some other part of the country where I had no connections whatsoever and try and fly and the experience would just leave me wanting because the guy didn’t have a clue how to issue an IFR clearance or he was text only or they were just disappearing middle of the flight and then you’re like “Uh, this just isn’t predictable” and so that’s one of the key differences.” If you’re looking for predictability, we can offer that.
That said, our coverage is really small and we haven’t mentioned that yet so I want to be upfront and honest about how we work, and you mentioned that flight to Russia and mentioned during Anchorage to Memphis, our network would not work for you in that case. We can’t offer you Anchorage to Memphis. However, we’re upfront about that. You know exactly what you’re getting when you sign up for our network which is the Los Angeles ARTCC as well as San Francisco. So Los Angeles Center covers about 40 towered airports and 150, honestly I’ve never actually counted them but there’s definitely more than 100 non-towered airports as well. So for towered airports, you get 40 towered airports including San Francisco and it covers maybe about 600 miles in one direction and about 400 miles in the other. So you can do about an hour to an hour and a half in a 737 if you try pretty hard, but I’ll be honest you’ll run out of airports pretty quickly. In a 73 or a 74 or a 75 or a 777 or 787, you are going to run out of airport city pairs in fairly short order. The network is more useful if you’re flying pistons and solar props helicopters, that sort of thing, then all the airports open up and you pretty much never run out of city pairs to fly to.
Chris: Right. So here’s a question, just quickly. If I was flying into the PilotEdge network from another location, say I was flying from New York to LA, I’d basically just pick up ATC when I get closer?
Keith: Yes. We actually have people who do that. So you can begin your flight offline or on another network and then in midflight or as you’re approaching our boundary you can connect to our network and talk to us. Other people just do the entire flight. They’ll do JFK to LA on pilot edge and they know that they have no ATC for the beginning of the flight. You can do it. I don’t really encourage it or discourage it. It’s not for me personally. The idea of doing half the flight with ATC frustrates me but that’s just my personal preference, but you certainly could do that. So if you want to do Anchorage to LA, you can absolutely hop on the network at any point during that time. The challenge there is who do you call? Once you’re at the border, that’s a skill in and of itself, it’s finding out what’s the local ARTCC frequency here and I get PMs all the time from people on my forum saying “Hey, I’m currently coming over there. I just left Seattle. I don’t know what frequency to call for Oakland Center.” You never have to do that. In real world, you don’t pick up IFR, flight level 350 so… But the answer is you can pick it up on the [inaudible-00:41:03] chart, it’s right there.
Chris: Great. So I want to move in to the flight training segment and the reason why is because we’ve kind of talked about the limitations or your network or rather the difference in geographic areas, so we talked about my experience in Russia, we talked about Anchorage to Memphis. I consider those to be situations largely that you would do as a hobbyist. If you’re training to be a pilot or you’re training at an airline, you’re not going to be doing long haul routes, you’re just not going to. There’s too much time in between and really what you’re practicing as a pilot anyway is getting up to cruise and coming down from your cruise. Largely what this is, what your network is and what I see it as just personally and I know it has value, lots of value for a hobbyist as well, but I largely see it as having a great impact in flight training itself. I want to get into this with you as far as the flight training aspect of it, so kind of leaving behind the hobbyist end and the flight simulation end since we’ve kind of talked about that a lot already.
Now, one of the first things that I want to talk about before we kind of get into the different areas where potentially people could use your network is a couple things that you have coming up, just to just kind of give a little injection of adrenaline here something is failures in shared cockpits. So can you tell us about those things coming up for you guys briefly?
Keith: Sure. So a new capability we’re adding to the network, we’re kind of moving the network from just providing ATC and traffic for simulators, we’re taking it to the next level which is now you can outsource not only ATC and traffic but you can also outsource failure management. At this point, we’re now allowing people to use these flight training devices without an instructor present and having a very, very meaningful training experience because they’re getting the ATC, they’re getting the traffic, and now they’re getting the failures. These are all the things which in the past, an instructor would have had to have triggered sitting next to them. Normally the instructor provides the ATC. Normally the instructor pushes the buttons on the instructor console to trigger the presence of another conflicting aircraft, and normally the instructor pushes a button to fail your left engine. The idea of having a student solo in these expensive devices is really failure unheard of because at the moment, an instructor is required to do so many of the things that are important on that ride. So by adding failure management, now our controls can trigger failures at appropriate points during the flight. We can fail any of the systems in the airplane. Right now we have it for X-plane but we’re eventually going to try and add it for FSX and P3D as well, and the experience with that has been amazing.
People have been testing it for us, have been testing on Twitch and it’s actually quite funny because you see these guys relaxing, they’ve got their hands behind their head, they’re checking their email. They’re basically checked out from the flight if I’m being honest and so “Okay, time to fail something on you,” so then we give a vacuum failure or a pedostatic failure or fail a particular instrument or take out one of their landing gear, give them a bird strike. There are hundreds and hundreds of failures that we can trigger with an X-plane. So the ability to trigger those failures from the scope and actually fix the failures is a huge, huge deal. From a flight training perspective, that has amazing potential and before anyone gets terrified and says “Well I don’t want to fly in that network if they’re going to kill my engine,” we won’t. This is really for commercial use for the most part, that’s our initial implementation, and all will be done through a letter of agreement. So we’ll have an agreement with the school that says “When these students are on these particular flights or in these scenarios, ATC will trigger one of these 18 different failures during this phase of flight.” That’s going to take the sim to a whole new level.
Chris: Yeah. It has a lot of potential. Great. Tell us about the shared cockpit.
Keith: So shared cockpit is pretty neat. That’s existed for a while in FSX from what I understand. It recently became available for X-plane as well. Let’s say a plug-in called the Smart Co-pilot plug-in written by a guy in Russia. I came across it about three months ago and I have been pretty addicted to it ever since. It’s highly configurable. Unlike FSX which has flooding problems when you try and share really complex airplanes, you can configure exactly how the sharing takes place and I’m working with the plug-in developer to build a wide library of planes that are now supported by shared cockpit, and I’ve modified PilotEdge to support it as well. If you and I are going to jump into a 172 or a King Air or a helicopter or a glider, any of those things, we could start up our sims, both connect to PilotEdge, one as a regular pilot, the other one as an observer essentially, and we could fly the same airplane both connected to PilotEdge. So we’d see the traffic out the window, we would hear the same radio calls. Either one of us could actually transmit on the radio, and we can operate the airplane together. And that has massive, massive implications for a whole bunch of different industries as well as home use, but for flight training it’s really, really excited because now you can get high quality instruction potentially, this could become a whole cottage industry.
It’s 10 o’clock at night, you’re working professionally, you’ve come home from your job, spent some time with the family, kids go to bed, and you want to come down and do some meaningful flight training. Well you can’t go to your local flight school at 10 o’clock at night. It’s just not going to happen. Too cold, it’s dark, no one likes to be at the flight school at 10 o’clock at night, but you could come down to your sim and have a two-hour training block with a qualified instructor in a shared cockpit environment where you brief a lesson, you fly together, you debrief. It’s exactly like a real lesson except you never went to the flight school. I think that has just massive, massive implication because it becomes so much more accessible now and convenient. Because you ask anybody who’s currently engaged in flight training and ask them “Do you find this to be convenient, your schedule?” Most of them are just going to say and say “Not really.” You always have to carve out a four or five-hour block, hogs up the weekend. Spouses are rarely happy that you’re taking up half the weekend to go learn to fly. This just makes it more on-demand and mobile and I figure it all makes sense in the world, so yeah we’re introducing both of those. Very, very excited about them.
Chris: And especially when you’re talking about getting instrument training which takes a large amount of work and it’s a lot more than really a private pilot, and getting to a proficiency level that really matters, having a shared cockpit and having a situation like that where you can really work out the wrinkles in between your actual flight lessons with a simulator and do in a simulated instrument environment and have an instructor right next to you could be incredibly valuable for getting a student to the point in their instrument training where they essentially take the checkride and they take the checkride with confidence. Not just doing it because they learned X, Y and Z and they did the same approach everytime at their local airport, and this certain examiner, he goes up to the airport 50 miles away and he’ll do this approach everytime and he’ll fill this on you, and those are the only things you practice but rather, you have a proficiency level where you really understand the procedures regardless of where it is and what it is, you can interpret all that stuff and you can manage your flights accordingly. It’s that stuff in between, that decision-making, that scenario-based training that’s so great with simulators that that depth of immersion where you can actually have an instructor right there with you, I think that will be incredibly valuable. Heck, I’d love to get on there with an instructor periodically and do that sort of thing. I think that would be fantastic.
Keith: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s so exciting on so many levels, and you bring up a good point about when you train at the moment in the real world, resources are limited. Whether it’s time or money, there’s kind of a race to get your rating for the most part, and a lot of schools tend to teach to the test, because if they didn’t teach to the test, the washout rate would be even higher than it is. If you really did teach someone to proficiency every single time, it can take a long time to become very, very well-rounded and very proficient, so a lot of schools try and just get you through the system and the end result is yes, you get your ticket, yes you passed the checkride, but are you absolutely to fly in every different condition? Not really. You haven’t been exposed to that many different situations because there hasn’t been a time or money to get it done. Now you can afford to get exposed to so many more situations and build up so much more experience because you are doing it at home at a price point which might as well be free compared to what it costs to fly an airplane with an instructor on board.
I had wished just during my training, even during my instrument training, we’re doing a lot of things piecemeal. We’re going to go out and shoot approach, we’re going to do partial panel. There was very little end-to-end flying going on. So I’d go to bed literally wondering “I wonder what it’s like to do a long IFR flight beginning to end” and we literally never did one except for towards the very end on a couple of the long cross countries. Now you have the opportunity to jump on board… it doesn’t even really have to be an instructor to be honest, it could be just a qualified pilot who’s instrumented rated, who say “Hey, do you mind if I ride right seat with you? I’d love to watch you do this flight.” And so the guy who was going to do the flight solo in the sim now has some company and he feels good because he’s helping share his knowledge. He’s got someone to ride along with basically. It’s just like picking up someone at the airport and taking him for a ride. It’s the same thing here. We can do the whole thing virtually, and I’ve done both. I’ve flown people in the real world many times. I’ve undergone flight training many times, and now I’ve been doing shared cockpit.
In all these different roles where I’m the student or I’m the instructor or I’m the mentor or it’s just two guys going for a flight and learning from each other, split the legs, and it’s exactly the same as flying the real airplane. It is almost scary how your brain gets tricked. Since between the ATC, the traffic, and now you’ve got someone else you’re working with, it’s absolutely incredible. And you can learn so much from flying with someone else. Whether they’re less experience than you, more experienced, or about the same experience level, you can always learn by watching someone else fly. Either because they do something where you’re like “Wow, I didn’t think of doing it that way, that’s a really good way of doing it,” or “Wow, what an awful decision that guy did make. I’m really glad I don’t do it that way.” Or, “Hey, he’s done it kind of differently. I wonder how’s that going to pain out,” and five minutes later, “Okay, sure enough that’s why I do it the way I do it because now he’s in trouble” for XYZ reasons. Any kind of flying where you can watch someone else is beneficial. For all these reasons, I’m absolutely pumped about shared cockpit. And again it’s not a brand new technology but it certainly is actually for X-plane, it’s been missing for a long time, and adding that capability to PilotEdge so that you can use the network in that shared cockpit capacity just makes it all that more realistic.
Chris: Yeah. It’s maturing for sure.
Keith: Good stuff.
Chris: Okay. So let’s talk about… we’re still kind of in flight training here. Let’s talk about the different industries in which you supplies to. Not all pilots are the same, we have different objectives and missions and different things we’re working on or doing, so what are the different industries that you see PilotEdge having an advantage in, and kind of give the elevator pitch for each of those industries.
Keith: Okay, sure. So the low-hanging fruit is certainly private pilots and instrument students at traditional flight schools. So if you are operating a flight school, you’ve invested in a flight training device, you’ve miraculously integrated it into your curriculum, not many flight schools have, but let’s say all those things have happened and you’re now looking to maximize use of the simulator, maximize the value of the simulator for the clients, reduce the time to train for those clients in the airplane, reduce the washout rate, increase the success rate, all those good things basically produce a better pilot. Then you can add PilotEdge to that device, integrate it into the curriculum, not the easiest thing to do for a lot of these schools but those that have done it, seeing that the clients absolutely love it, it makes the simulation that much more realistic and beneficial, especially the private level to be honest because sims are traditionally used for IFR training a lot of the time in these schools. Not so much on the private side because let’s face it, the stick and rudder, it’s pretty hard to teach in these devices that don’t control loading, they don’t fly like a real airplane, so when you’re teaching the full forces, you still kind of have to do that in the real airplane first.
So private primary training, sims are of somewhat limited value without the ATC element. Once you add the ATC element, now they can put warm bodies into those sims, get much more use out of the sim and produce a pilot who’s ready to get their private pilot ticket in less time and be a whole lot more comfortable in the radio. Because the number one fear of pilots is still talking on the radio. You talk to student pilots and even pilots who’ve already gotten their ticket, a lot of them never got that proficient on the radio, especially if they train at a non-towered airport. They do their minimum flights required, if it gets three flights into class Delta and that’s it, and “Whew, thank God that’s over. Now I don’t have to talk to ATC anymore.” It’s an extreme case but absolutely does happen. I’ve run into many, many pilots who are in that position. So if you’re a private pilot or a student pilot at a flight school, we could certainly add a ton of value to the flight training experience there, and the pitch to the school is you can make your device that much more useful and get more utility out of your sim. That’s starting on the bottom of the ladder if you like.
Moving up, we have, aviation English is a huge opportunity. I think it’s no secret that the pilots, when English is not their first language, they’re really struggling in some of the rapid fire airspace that we work in, so whether it’s Chicago Center, Miami Center, LA Center, New York Center and approach, they might be able to handle a conversation in English on the ground or in a classroom, but once ATC is talking at a millions an hour and it’s over crackly radio, they’re just not really able to keep up in a lot of cases and we’re seeing many, many cases where pilot deviations occur and it’s not because the pilots are unable to fly their airplanes correctly, they’re actually very competent in flying the airplane, it’s just there’s miscommunication between the pilot and ATC and so that’s going to be a huge industry for us, is offering an environment where students who are learning aviation English can actually practice an environment which more closely mirrors the real world. So again whether it’s private or instrument-level at some of these international flight schools, or even up into the airline level, there’s definitely interest in increasing the compliance with the requirements for being able to speak aviation English. So that without question is going to be a big one for us with airlines in South America, Asia, even places in Europe. So yeah, very excited about that.
Chris: Great.
Keith: We also have military applications. It’s a little hard to talk about some of the specific due to NDAs that we’re already under, but there are initial pilot training opportunities where a flight school is one of the most competitive environments in the DOD so people who are learning to fly the T6 for example, they don’t want to just pass flight training. It’s not like in the civilian world where “Okay, I got my ticket. Great. Now I can do whatever I want.” When you’re learning to fly with the Navy or the Air Force, it’s not just a matter of passing flight school, it’s a matter of coming in the top 1 or 2 positions to really get your pick of the spots that are available. So if there are only two fighter slots available during that class, then you have to be in the top 1 or 2 to get them out of 15, 20 or 30 people, so it’s always been a super competitive environment. It’s kind of new to me but everytime I’ve spoken to someone who’s been in that environment, they impress upon me exactly how competitive it is, and I’m still surprised by it to be honest that it’s ruthlessly competitive. And so if these guys and girls have a way of getting an edge over other people to do better in flight school, this is what they’re going to do. We see an opportunity there to sell it directly to students who are undergoing training and eventually work with the DOD directly to start offering this in their training devices so it will be part of the curriculum as well. So, great military applications there.
And then we have the airlines of course. Domestic airlines, regional airlines and international airlines all have something to gain for different reasons, but regional airlines have some pretty high washout rates of their initial candidates. They spend quite a bit of money getting these guys and girls trained and the washout rate is actually quite high prior to the checkride, and regional airlines operate on very skimpy margins to begin with and anything they can do to reduce that burn rate and the washout is critical for them. So if they can prescreen a candidate or put them through an approved training program that uses our technology, if you’re going to hire a guy who’s done banner tow for 1500 hours or has been towing gliders for 1500 hours, he can technically get his ATP. But if he’s never worked with FMS, he’s never had a last minute runway change out of San Francisco from 28 left to 28 right, just hasn’t been exposed to that really busy airspace and SIDs and STARs and FMS and all of that, then he or she might struggle when they go to do it, when they get hired by the regional. We think we can help better prepare pilots who are transitioning from single piston and twin pistons up into the turbo jet world.
That’s it for regional airlines, and then moving on to international airlines. It’s kind of the same thing again with the aviation English so we don’t really have to cover that again. There are season captains at certain airlines who again they can fly the bejesus out of the plane but aviation English is a big problem for them. The last opportunity is in some high-end sim centers. There is more of a push from simply checking the boxes during the training to scenario-based training, whether looking at their decision-making. It’s a whole new kind of style of training. It’s taking a while to come around but that is the direction that it’s going. There is a push to get more realistic ATC in those environments. So it’s not just a matter of doing the V1 cup and they reposition the plane and now you shoot the ALS with the crosswind and now you do it with an engine fail and okay, we checked the three boxes, and you’re done. That’s your recurrent training done. They’re still going to test those skills but they are going to test the softer side of “Okay, let’s do and end to end flight from Boston to Philly and let’s just see what happens.” And they’ll throw minor emergencies at you but you are going to complete that flight. You’re going to go the whole way, and there is a push to try and get more realistic ATC in those environments as well.
Again, we’re not trying to teach radio communications to airline pilots. Heaven help them if they can’t already speak on the radio but again it’s about increasing the workload, making it closer to what happens in real life because the way do it right now, they’ll be the first to tell you that ATC comms is not simulated very realistically during those rides.
Chris: Yeah. Generally it’s the instructor sitting behind you that’s emulating those radio calls but I mean yeah, if they’re practicing emergencies in these intense situations that they had to perform, but at the same time they need to handle air traffic control at the same time, totally different story. Maybe not a totally different story but it adds another layer on top of the realism aspect of it, and really at that level, it really is the last layer. There’s really not much else that they could simulate there because the motion and everything else. That’s really the last layer that they need to make things happen realistically.
Keith: Yeah. The traffic and the ATC would be a very big part of it, and a real quick example where you could have a pilot who’s perfectly good at stick and rudder, perfectly good at talking on the radio, yet you put them into a high stress environment with the ATC and you start seeing problems. We had that happened at a tradeshow where a twin-rated pilot was flying this really nice sim, it was a Baron. There were doing laps [inaudible-01:01:46] all sorts of emergencies, and they’re doing great. Then we cleaned up the airplane, everything was fine. He’s on his last lap of the pattern on the midfield down and ATC tells him to extend his downwind for a King Air that’s on a straight-in ILS. So the guy gets all excited. He’s looking for the King Air, he’s looking to the King Air. I secretly leaned over and fail his nose scale actuator. So he’s still geared up and midfield downwind and now he’s looking for this King Air. He passes the numbers, he throws the gear down and he looks down, I actually followed his eyes. He looked down and looked at the gear, he was waiting for it to show three down and green but literally midway through that process ATC then made another couple of calls to him. I think they told him to widen out or ask him if he saw the King Air. He looked outside, started widening out, spotted the King Air, and starting adjusting his pattern to then follow that King Air. You can guess what happened next, he never completed the prelining checklist. He was then worried about his spacing and sequencing and where the King Air was going to get off, and he executed a perfect landing until there were shower of sparks when his fuselage… he landed on the mains and everything was great and then as the nose lowered it just kept on lowering, and the nose never came out. He was genuinely shock, he’s like “What the… because but I…” and a lot of other incomplete sentences.
And then I look it, “You’d got three down the greens.” He’s like “Yeah, yeah. I checked, I heard it, I felt,” and I was like “Look down,” and he looked down and sure enough he had two green one red. But the sim completely tricked him. He heard the gear come down, he felt the gear come down because of the vibration. That’s why, you mentioned emotion, it does provide cues that can trick you sometimes. He did everything but check, and in this case, he didn’t check because of these other distractions. Could he have handled that normally? Yes, he would have done his prelining checklist. I have no doubt about that. Did he need practice talking on the radio? No. He was awesome at talking in the radio. It’s just that when you added all that workload together, you started seeing chinks in the armor and it turned out it wasn’t around his prelining checklist when he was being distracted. That could happen at the airline level. A similar thing could happen. If there’s enough distraction, they might not get through one of their flows, one of their checklists, and might not pick up on a small little thing that isn’t quite right, and right now that’s really hard to pick up in these sessions.
Chris: Definitely. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with you guys in a few years when you start getting some used cases and some of these situations where people have been on the PilotEdge network for a while, they practiced really well, they went through kind of your shared cockpit, maybe even your failures, and they run into a situation like this in the real world and they come to you and say “Hey, if I hadn’t had experienced this exact situation in a simulator and I hadn’t experienced kind of like this Baron guy had where his nose will then go down, and they come back and they say “Your network basically saved me a lot of money and headache and maybe even my life.” That’s going to be really, really cool. And honestly, it’s going to happen. At some point it’s going to happen where this just rounds pilots off that little extra bit and really just makes them that much better.
Keith: Exactly. I already have an example where it happened to me. I wouldn’t say it saved my life but it saved a huge amount of inconvenience where in the sim one day, we were shooting a video, a promotional video, in fact, the video is on our website. It’s one of the promotional videos on our videos page. And there’s a scenario where I’m flying from Santa Barbara to somewhere else, I can’t remember the destination, but have set up the video shoot, everything was going well. I had my chart for Santa Barbara, the airport facility diagram, and we have printed out and laminated the instrument approach for the airport I was going to. We have no information for Santa Barbara but we didn’t need it. All I had was the taxi chart and we were good to go. So I take off, it’s low IFR, and there’s a birdstrike and they fail my nose gear actuator, same deal again, can’t get my gear retracted this time. I had no idea this was coming. This was completely dynamic in the scenario and we’re filming the whole thing and I can’t get the gear up, and this was the long flight we were supposed to be doing. So I make a decision on the flight “We’re going to return to Santa Barbara,” and as soon as I said it, I fast forwarded it in my mind, “What’s going to happen next? U-oh, they’re going to have me shoot an approach, I got no plates. How am I going to shoot and approach in this airport with no plates?”
Rather than stop the scenario and say “Hang on guys, I’m not going to be able to do this, we don’t have plates,” I just let it play out. I told the guys, I said “We’re going to need some help here” and I just brainstormed and said “Would you be able to read me the parts of the approach plate that I need?” And he’s like “What do you need?” So I then told him all the things I needed. He read them to me, I wrote them down, we shoot the approach and everything is great, and that’s how the video scenario ended and it was all on PilotEdge. I thought that was really cool but that’s never really going to happen. So good tool to have I guess but I kind of forgot about after that. Well, three years later, it happened.
Chris: Wow, no way.
Keith: It was pre-iPod days. It wasn’t exactly the same situation. It’s not that I needed to return to my home airport because I certainly have plates at my home airport, but this is pre Foreflight era and I only have paper charts and long story short, because I know we are already running pretty long, but long story short, I didn’t have plates for where it was I was ultimately going. I had them for my fuel stop but it turned out I didn’t need to make the fuel stop. So I kept going past the fuel stop, weather turned out worse than forecast at destination, I need to shoot and approach, and they said “Which approach would you like?” I’m like “That’s a great question. Here’s the thing, I don’t have any plates,” and they’re like “Really?” They said “Okay, we’ll have intentions.” They started giving me all these options to head back to where I just come from and I said “You know, if I ask you to read this information, will you be able to give it to me?” And they’re like “Okay.” And they did. They wrote it all out for me, I got what I needed. The one thing I didn’t ask for the mist which might sound a bit crazy not to ask for the mist but it was like 1200 overcast and it was for an ILS so I knew I was going to be getting in, it was just a matter of getting through this layer basically.
They read all the information, I shot the approached just with what I had written down, and I thought “Holy cow. I bet I wouldn’t have thought of that had it not been for that flight on PilotEdge.” They’re not life-saving, but it was hugely convenient to be able to continue my flight instead of having to turn around and head somewhere else.
Chris: Wow. That’s pretty amazing.
Keith: I’m pretty sure we’ll get the life-saving stories in the future. And again they probably exist from Vatsim but anytime again, I have to stress, adding online ATC or flying with online ATC I think is just such a huge step forward. It doesn’t have to be PilotEdge. We offer some things that others don’t but even if you would like to simply take the leap from flying offline to online on any of the networks, I think it’s a massive step forward in the potential that you can unlock from the sim.
Chris: Great. Alright, well we’ve just about run out of time. I think the users are convinced now. Where can they go to sign up and how easy is it to get started?
Keith: Alright. They can go to PilotEdge.net. Getting started as I said, you click the “Join Now” button. First name, last name, email address, your two-week trial kicks off there and then. Download the software that you need, read the instructions carefully, and then enjoy the network. We do have a training program on there that shows you a bunch of flights you can do and ATC will track your progress through those flights, provide you a lot of feedback. We have a recommended first flight actually which is from a non-towered airport to a towered airport. It’s a nice little icebreaker, very, very short flight. Lots of people do that. And so that’s how you get signed up and that’s how you get started. You just need a broadband connection and a headset or a microphone.
Chris: Awesome. Sounds easy.
Keith: And then the pricing is around, but simple answer is it’s about 20 bucks a month. That’s if you go for unlimited monthly. If you can commit on an annual level, once you’ve been at it for a couple of months, if you say, “This is definitely for me. I want to keep doing it,” the most affordable option is the annual option and that comes out to about 15 bucks a month. You get it for the whole year. It’s about 180 bucks for the year. Otherwise, if you know you’re not going to flying the sim very frequently, so if you travel a lot, you just don’t have a lot of time to use the sim, if you’re literally only going to use it for a couple of hours a month, we do have an hour to hour option where you pay 5 bucks a month for the base membership and then 2 dollars per hour. Be very careful if you do that. Some people do that “Okay, I’m not going to fly much,” and then they have an 80-dollar bill in their first month. Because they ended up getting hooked on it, and so yeah, make sure you know what you’re doing if you go for the hour.
Chris: Yeah. Fantastic deal though. That’s an amazing price to get these kind of tools. Especially with all of the kind of used cases that we talked about, I’m sure that once you get to the professional level, there’s kind of some different conversations there as far as the commercial pricing, so it’s important to point that out. Alright, so any final thoughts for the listeners?
Keith: Well, if they’re not completely overwhelmed, I appreciate them hanging in there and making it through the whole podcast with us. I do get very excited about this stuff, been doing it for three plus years, and I still absolutely love it. So if you’re not already using simulation and you’re a real world pilot, I would take another look at what sims have to offer today that have come such a long way and again the addition of ATC with the failures and the shared cockpit, all of that, you really get a lot of bang for your buck and it’s a great way to stay sharp in between flights. For the enthusiasts, again if ATC is important to you, this is definitely something to consider.
Chris: Awesome. Well thank you so much for being on the show. It was a fantastic time, learned quite a bit. I’m excited about the network as well. I’m planning to getting on myself soon too. I just got to get my iMac back and then I can load up X-plane and try it out. Really excited about those failures and the shared cockpit. That’s one thing that I’m really attracted to right now. But looking forward to it, looking forward to your success, and we’ll definitely be in touch, so thanks Keith.
Keith: Alright. Thanks so much. I have some special failures for you when you fly, trust me.
Chris: Oh no, here we go. Thanks man. Talk to you soon.
Alright. Huge thanks goes out to Keith Smith from PilotEdge for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. It’s really encouraging to see these types of tools being produced for simulation. And not only tools just for simulation but really tools for flight training and tools that help on every single level. From the student pilot that has mic fright to the experienced captain that is flying a level D simulator and has another level of realism to help him out in polishing off his recurrent training. So in all areas, this sort of tool really helps out a lot. I really think that Keith’s passion for his business and for aviation shines through and we really wish him all the best success with PilotEdge and really hope that it takes off and continues to do well. It’s certainly something that I know I’m going to test out. Right after we were off the call, Keith and I were talking about how I was going to get hooked up and start to fly on his network and test things out, so I think that would be kind of my next step with PilotEdge and I’m excited to do that because as a pilot I do want to remain proficient, I want to remain efficient, and I want to be able to practice in between flights or shake off the rust, whatever it is and that can be done so well and so cheaply though a simulator.
Really, another layer of that again is the communication part of it. I need to get my tongue moving again and be able to say those things and get those radio calls, be able to do so quickly and be able to repeat and understand and build a picture in my head on what’s going on the local area and really all the different levels that go into communication. It’s something that I certainly look to having and using and I’m really looking forward to that. So again, if you want to check out PilotEdge, it’s PilotEdge.net and I think it’s a fantastic tool and I think you will believe so as well. They have a trial so you really have nothing to lose, go check it out.
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Until next time, throttle on!


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Wonderful! This transcript is of particular importance to me because I have decided to subscribe to PE after comparing its audio and teaching capabilities with VATSIM’s.

Excellent interview… Keith is very modest when he describes how Pilot Edge is better than VATSIM… multiply what he said by two 🙂

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