The Culver Summer Schools & Camps’ aviation program is wrapping up its second year using the combination of flight simulators and flying out of the Starke County Airport in Knox, Ind. There are over 60 Upper Camp students enrolled in the program.
While most are in the aviation unit, Commander Bill Welch and Mary Kaye Welch said, six come from the Naval units. This summer, Culver is partnering with J.A. Flight Training, Sugar Grove, Ill., which is handling the operations at the airport. The dedicated hangar has two flight simulators and four single engine planes (three Cessna 162s, which are two-seaters, and one four-seat Cessna 172). A third flight simulator is located on-campus in the lower level of Gignilliat Hall.
The advantages of having simulators on campus and at the airport include allowing campers to log hours in the cockpit. The simulators are full-size and the graphics can be set for any registered airport in the world. While not as detailed as Google Earth, it does let students know they are flying over different size cities and the countryside. The seats are also motion-based, so students get a better feel for how a plane will handle.
The simulators can be set up for the Starke County Airport and include the proper length for the runway and taxiway and any signs. This gives campers a better understanding of how it will look without leaving campus. “That is a big benefit because it reduces time and travel,” Mary Kaye Welch said.
That is a big benefit because it reduces time and travel
The Welches said they have programmed the simulator in Gignilliat for regional airports like Gary, Ind. and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway to give students some different experiences. They have also set it for such far-flung places as Key West, Fla., Hong Kong, and Mexico City. The airport simulators also let students get instructional time even if there is a weather delay.
There are three proficiency levels campers can reach during their summers at Culver. They are the bronze, silver, and gold wings. The bronze comes with passing the Federal Aviation Administration’s written knowledge test or the FAA practice test. Students must complete their ground curriculum or complete 10 flights in order to sit for either test.
Mary Kaye Welch said most campers will take the practice test because the FAA recommends people do not take the written knowledge test until they are ready to solo. Since a person has to be 16 to solo, it doesn’t make sense for a 14- or 15-year-old to spend the $150 required to sit for the test, especially because the FAA test expires after two years.
Here is another advantage of the simulators, she added. Since simulator time is just one-third the cost of flight time, parents can choose whether they want their students to have more time in the simulator or in an airplane. Some decided to go with more simulator time and a couple of flights. Others opt to go with more flight time.
A camper receives silver wings after he/she has flown solo. Bill Welch said there is not a specific number of hours students must fly, but they generally have logged 12 to 20 hours in the cockpit. There are also other steps included in the criteria, he said, but the biggest one is that a person has to be 16 in order to receive their solo certificate.
Two campers, Jacob Schmidt (Spring, Texas) and William Dooley (Austin, Texas), soloed this summer. Marc Riordan, who heads the flight instruction program for J.A. Flight Training, said a solo flight is a major accomplishment for Upper Campers. Once that is accomplished, the next step is to pursue a private pilot’s license. After a person receives his or her license, there are different class ratings each individual can pursue and remain under a private pilot’s umbrella.
But obtaining a private pilot’s license and earning your gold wings at Culver can be tricky, the Welches said, because of the FAA age requirements. Flight students have to be 17 before they can receive their private pilot’s license and most campers have already graduated before they become of age. “That excludes most of our kids,” Mary Kaye Welch said.
The number of hours spent in the air also puts a limit on the campers. While the minimum amount of flight time is 35 hours, the Welches said the national average being reported to the FAA is over 60 hours. That includes night flights and cross-country trips. Again, having simulators available helps, Mary Kaye Welch said, since 3.5 of the required 35 hours can be in a simulator.
Along with the Upper Camp aviation program, there is an introductory course now being offered in Woodcraft Camp. The course is two weeks long and includes a session in the flight simulator and an optional “discovery flight” in one of the planes. What the Welches do for the Woodcrafters is ask where their hometowns are and they set the simulator for the closest registered airport.
Designed to pique the younger kids’ interest in flying, the class has grown every session with a total of 43 Woodcrafters taking the class this summer, she said.