Redbird remote learning teaches an old dog a new trick

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“That looks like a plate of spaghetti,” lamented flight instructor and AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman, snapping me back to reality. “It’s the worst recognizable 180-degree turn I’ve seen.”

“I guess I’ll take some meatballs with that next time,” I muttered while struggling to understand the exercise and scrambling to regain my shattered confidence. “Let’s give it one more shot and see if I can do it,” I said, determined to show him the right stuff.

A hands-on demonstration would’ve really helped me, but it was not meant to be as the world buckled down under social distancing procedures in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Although he’s usually by my side, on this flight Hirschman was about five miles away monitoring my performance from home via a Zoom video link while we tested the remote teaching concept.

Other students, instructors, and flight schools grappled with similar restrictions put in place to avoid the exchange of germs in the close confines of a general aviation aircraft.

Redbird Flight Simulations Marketing Vice President Josh Harnagel worked with us to outfit one of AOPA’s two Redbird full-motion simulators with software for the remote learning experiment, so I figured we had the next-best option in lieu of a one-on-one lesson. Harnagel explained that Connect software enables remote access to a web-based version of Redbird’s flight simulator operating system, Redbird Navigator, which gives flight instructors full functionality of the system’s instructor tools. Hirschman’s tools included a split-screen view of the simulated aircraft’s primary flight display and a moving map display of the flight in progress.

The live feed allowed my instructor to track my progress, critique my hand-flying skills, and analyze additional flight data. Although he wasn’t close enough to physically coach me, I still felt Hirschman staring me down through an iPad clamped to a MyGoFlight universal cradle and a Manfrotto tripod positioned between the simulator’s seat rails.

It was difficult to understand what he meant for me to do when Hirschman instructed me to apply back-pressure until I could feel it, turn at 30 degrees, and simultaneously maintain the Cessna 172’s pitch attitude at about 17 degrees nose-high during a maximum performance, 180-degree climbing right turn. I just couldn’t picture it, despite a preflight briefing and diagrams showing the sequence.

More than once I rolled out of the exercise with the stall horn buzzing an end to the maneuver well

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