Setting sights for the sky

Aviation: With its new flight simulator, a college aims to set itself apart in the field of flight training.

August 10, 1999|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Inside Room H-132 at Catonsville's community college sits the sprawling runway complex at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Starting this fall, students will take off and land from there using a $20,000 flight simulator. Along the way, these would-be pilots will encounter fire in their plane's cockpit, run out of fuel and be forced to land under foggy conditions.

To deal with such hair-raising emergencies, however, students will only have to step outside the simulator and solve problems with their professor.

"By duplicating these conditions, student learning is reinforced in a way that cannot be done in an airplane," said Douglas Williams, program instructor for the two-year Aviation Management Program at Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville campus.

The new flight simulator will enhance the school's aviation program, keeping it competitive with larger, four-year institutions. Catonsville is the only two-year college in Maryland with such technology. More than 90 students are expected in Catonsville's aviation course in September, paying $180 for two semesters.

The meticulous and exhaustive study required to fly an airplane starts in the seat of the Personal Computer, Aviation Training Device, known as the flight simulator.

Resembling an arcade ride, the virtual airplane features an intimidating array of dials, digital readouts and instruments, complete with sound and visuals. The simulator provides the look and feel of flight conditions, teaching prospective pilots how to interpret instrument readings in 12 different types of aircraft and correct problems ranging from altitude to air speed to a jammed landing gear, said Williams.

After two years of being buffeted by high winds, dipping horizons and loss of radio contact -- all in the secure confines of the computerized simulator -- graduates earn an associate of Applied Science degree. With the required in-flight training, they can then test for a Federal Aviation Administration license to operate either a private or commercial plane. The course also prepares students to take the FAA's test to become instrument-rated, indicating the ability to fly in bad weather without seeing the horizon.

If they pass, Catonsville's student aviators will step proudly into the ranks of Maryland's 8,800 pilots, nearly 3,000 of whom are commercial fliers.

In most private aviation courses in Maryland, a student will spend an average of $4,000, Williams said. That, however, includes flight lessons. The fee is about the same for a course to become instrument-rated.

So the choice was simple for Sharon Howard, a 40-year-old corporate comptroller in Baltimore, who says her tuition money at Catonsville is "well spent."

"Generally, people who want to fly are disciplined, intelligent and possess gumption," said Howard, two months from being instrument-rated at the Catonsville course. "You see young people and older pilots in our program. For the retirees, it gives them an opportunity to have time again for their hobby."

Using the simulator allows a student to learn not to panic, said Howard, who was among the students who tested the new simulator this summer. "You can make a mistake without crashing your plane. You can go through all the hypotheticals and have the time to solve them safely."

Ex-Navy man Matthew Landry of White Marsh is attending Catonsville on a GI Bill and is studying for a commercial license. His goal is to fly tourists around Florida in a seaplane.

At Catonsville, licensed pilots can be tested for their recertification, Williams said.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is the only 4-year institution in Maryland offering a similar aviation program using a flight simulator and a federally approved pilot licensing course. The University of Baltimore and Prince George's County Community College offer aviation-related courses, but not flight instruction.

Catonsville's program, in existence for 20 years, "leads to all sorts of employment possibilities," said Williams, an instrument-rated pilot and a Pennsylvania Air National Guard member. As a citizen-soldier, Williams served in Kosovo during NATO's air war over Yugoslavia.

If they choose to stay on the ground, graduates of the Catonsville program may qualify as air traffic control specialists, flight service station managers or for jobs in airport management and computer aviation science. The students also can enter the military.

Once they have their wings, they can sign with commercial airlines, corporate flight departments, charter or cargo operators, agricultural flying or, like their teacher, become flight instructors.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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