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Aviation: Crisis Management

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Three minutes after takeoff from runway 4 at Honolulu International Airport, at about 3,000 feet, the Gulfstream IV’s left engine catches fire.

Seated in the copilot’s chair, I call up a checklist on the monitor before me. Following the instructions that appear on the screen, I shift the jet’s power lever to idle, shut off the engine, and pull a red handle that activates a fire extinguisher. Then I push the fire test button above my head. The button turns red, indicating that the fire is out. I glance at instructor Adam Amer in the pilot’s seat to my left.

“Congratulations,” he says. “You solved a fairly simple problem.”

The problem was especially simple because we never had left the ground, and the fire I had just extinguished was a virtual one. We are not even in Hawaii; we are in Whippany, N.J., in a CAE 7000 Series Level D full-flight simulator.

CAE’s 7000 Series simulators, the company’s largest, deliver an astonishingly lifelike experience. The white pods, which measure 21 feet wide, 25 feet long, and 16 feet high, stand on several 6.5-foot legs that move in six directions, giving the trainee an impression of turbulence, g-forces, and other physical sensations of flight. Each simulator contains an exact replica of the cockpit of a particular jet. During training, the windows fill with images downloaded from satellites, showing you the terrain that you would encounter at various locations, including more than 200 airports worldwide. The machine’s software simulates every kind of weather and allows you to grapple with fires and other emergencies.

In 1947 in Quebec, Ken Patrick, an ex–Royal Canadian Air Force officer, founded the Canadian Aviation Electronics company to work on military technology projects. In 1952, the firm built its first flight simulator. Fifty-five years later, the company, now called CAE, employs about 5,000 people in manufacturing and training facilities in 19 countries. The three-story, brick-and-glass structure in New Jersey, which opened in June, is CAE’s 24th training center and its fourth devoted exclusively to business jets.

Jeff Roberts, CAE’s group president for innovation and civil aviation training, notes that the firm graduates about 50,000 pilots a year. It offers two types of instruction: “ab initio” for beginning pilots, and type-specific for experienced ones. Ab initio training, which combines classroom instruction with work on PCs and in small simulators, takes about a year and can cost $120,000 to $150,000. Type-specific training, in which a pilot seeks FAA approval to fly a particular kind of aircraft, requires two weeks to a month and can cost $40,000 to $50,000.

At the New Jersey center, the simulator for the Gulfstream IV stands near ones for a Sikorsky S-76 and some Dassault Falcon jets, including the speedy Dassault Falcon 7X, which recently entered production. The company plans to add at least six more simulators for other jet types, including the Gulfstream 450 and 550.

CAE has sold at least one of its 30,000-pound, $15 million simulators to a customer who wanted it for his home. Evidently he, too, had discovered that even a fairly simple problem like coping with an engine fire and safely landing a crippled plane is tremendously exciting. Imagine how much fun a really serious problem would be.


CAE, 514.341.6780, www­.cae.com

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