Lebanon Flight School Hopes Simulator Soars

West Lebanon — Lebanon Municipal Airport will soon feature a new attraction that officials hope will draw people to the terminal. But don’t look to the sky or you might miss it.

The aircraft-enthusiasts at Leading Edge Aviation Northeast are hoping that a newly-acquired Redbird FMX flight simulator — an advanced piece of machinery that costs upward of $60,000 — will generate significant buzz in the Upper Valley, and maybe even some spare change from curious travelers.

“It would be really nice if folks out there could just see what flying is all about,” Marc Nemeth, owner and operator of the Leading Edge Aviation flight school, said last week. “It’s really attainable for anybody who wants to do it.”

Nemeth plans to place the simulator in the main passenger terminal behind a large glass wall. The simulator itself is encapsulated in spacious enclosed cockpit area that sits atop a motion-inducing platform to simulate the experience of flying with realistic movements. Inside, an instrument panel is accompanied by numerous flat-screen displays offering 200-degree wrap-around visuals that will eventually be fed into the simulator’s computer via Google terrain maps.

The City Council last week approved an amendment to the school’s lease that will allow for installation of the flight simulator, which could be in place in a matter of weeks.

Bruce Prince, who described himself as a business partner of the flight school, helped purchase the expensive piece of equipment. He said the simulator will primarily serve to support the school’s flight training efforts, and added that it will be especially useful during the winter, when weather conditions often pose a safety risk.

“When weather conditions aren’t conducive to powered flight, this is an excellent way for pilots to maintain efficient training,” he said. “That said, anybody in the community who has any interest in aviation whatsoever can come up and take it for a spin.”

Nemeth largely spoke about the simulator as a tool for community engagement. He said that the flight school occasionally hosts field trips for nearby students, including tours of the flight school facilities and the air traffic control tower, but the cost of fuel and the logistics of take-offs and landings make it impractical to actually take the students up in the air.

Given that the simulator only requires electricity to power up and take flight, Nemeth said he would view it as “community service” to allow kids to experience the thrill of flying.

From a second-story office window, Nemeth pointed to several private jets sitting on the tarmac at the far side of the airport.

“It’s pretty obvious when you look at all of the steel down there, that apparently this is a real in-demand airport, and that part of the community is doing real well,” Nemeth said of the private jets. “There’s another part of the community, which is general aviation.”

Nemeth, a Royalton resident who has lived in the Upper Valley for about 20 years, said that the flight school started up about a year ago, and relocated to the main terminal three months ago. As it stands, the flight school has about 25 students who use a large classroom with a conference table on the second floor and a downstairs pilots’ lounge where the old airport gift shop used to be.

Nemeth said that flight school is “a notoriously unprofitable business,” but added that Leading Edge has done well so far.

Nationwide, Nemeth said, there only about 600,000 licensed pilots, including those who fly for commercial airlines. Additionally, he said there is a demand for flight training and licensed pilots in northern New England.

“We have a very good support system here and the students are excited about flying,” he said. “The problem we run into is maintenance (of the airplanes) can be extremely expensive. Also, in New England, we have bad weather.”

That’s where the simulator can really bolster the school’s efforts, Nemeth said. Since flight time logged in the Redbird simulator is counted just as normal flight time would be for training purposes, students can take to the simulator when the weather is too severe for lessons.

The simulator would also allow for safe training in unsafe conditions, such as heavy turbulence, thunderstorms and other situations that one would prefer to experience from a cockpit secured firmly to the ground.

“One of the hardest things to train for is cross-wind landings,” Nemeth said. “Now, we can put them in the simulator and they can actually do the cross-wind training all they want.”

Nemeth said it typically costs $200 in fuel alone to fly the planes offered by the flight school, and that he plans to charge $50 an hour for use of the simulator. That price would include guidance from one of Leading Edge’s five instructors .

Airport Manager Rick Dyment said he has high hopes that the simulator will prove to be a draw for passengers flying Cape Air, the sole commercial airline serving the airport. Dyment also expressed optimism that the simulator could spark curiosity in people who otherwise have no reason to visit the terminal.

Jacqueline Donohoo, northeast marketing manager at Cape Air, said the simulator would not directly affect the airline, “but, we are excited about any new addition to the airport and we think that this new simulator will help spark interest locally in aviation and bring more people to the airport.”

Donohoo said that 10,120 passengers departed from Lebanon Municipal Airport on Cape Air flights last year.

Sitting in the airport terminal last week, Elizabeth and Jonathan Young were waiting to depart and travel to a friend’s wedding. Elizabeth Young, who grew up in Vermont, said she liked the idea of trying out a simulator, though Jonathan Young said the “price point is a little high” at $50 for an hour.

“Put me down as a maybe,” said Jonathan Young.

While Elizabeth Young said she isn’t afraid of flying, Jonathan Young said he sometimes gets “anxious” when getting ready to board.

“The fact that I could crash in the simulator, and then get on the plane ...,” said Jonathan Young, before he was cut off by his wife.

“Well, how about this?” asked Elizabeth Young. “If the pilot passed out, you could just get in there and take over.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.