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Friday, Jun 23, 2017
Local News

Real training, fake danger for pilots at Lutz flight simulation facility

LUTZ

If you want to get a sense of what it's like to fly a luxury jet, there's no better place to go than the company that makes them.

That was the founding principle of flight simulator manufacturer Tru Simulation and Training, a company owned by Textron, which owns aviation mainstays Cessna, Beechcraft and Bell Helicopter.

And now, thanks to a $4 million expansion of Tru's training and simulation complex off the Suncoast Parkway in Lutz, pilots from around the world will soon be able to fly in one of seven of the giant gyrating capsules, experiencing exact replicas of the crafts they will be flying — without the dangers.

Tru prides itself on being the only simulator company owned by an aviation company, executives say. It's huge for customers, who can get their training from the same people who sell them their new aircraft. In fact, training is included in the purchase price.

"Seeing that customer go through the sales and the aircraft support experience, it also made sense to see them go through the training experience," said Chad Martin, the Lutz training center manager.

• • •

The three simulators currently in use at Tru's Lutz training center look like space capsules: huge white boxes floating tall on hydraulic stilts. Ready for mounting, they appear, on the tip of a rocket.

Each one costs $6 million to $10 million and weighs 25,000 to 40,000 pounds. Beneath them, 18 inches of steel-reinforced concrete keep them upright.

From the outside, their movements can be graceful or violent, depending on what the pilot is facing inside. That could be anything from sunny skies to rain to turbulence to mechanical failures.

Tru simulators are lauded in the industry for their feel, Martin said. Sometimes, pilots will walk out of simulators that are supposed to be exact replicas of the planes they're learning to fly and remark that the controls still didn't feel like the real thing. Not Tru's.

"They feel like the airplanes feel," Martin said. "We knew we could do it better. We've been a consumer of this stuff for so long."

• • •

Tru was born in 2013, Martin said, when Textron began amassing internal resources and acquiring other companies. The Lutz location used to be occupied by simulator company Opinicus until Textron bought it.

In addition to building flight simulators for its sister company's products, Tru also produces simulators replicating Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, the workhorses of the passenger airline industry. The company also manufactures maintenance simulations, so technicians can practice taking airplane pieces apart and rebuilding them without jeopardizing a working aircraft. Perhaps two of the best-known aircraft for which Tru makes maintenance simulators are the military's C-17 Globemaster cargo plane and the F-22 fighter plane.

The company has two other simulator manufacturing sites — in Montreal and Goose Creek, S.C., near Charleston — along with training centers in Carlsbad, Calif.; Valencia, Spain; and Iceland. But the Lutz location, in Northpointe Village south of State Road 54, is the only facility that does both.

The 30,000-square-foot expansion that Tru unveiled Wednesday makes room for classrooms and four additional full motion flight simulators. The expansion more than doubles the size of the building and will create about 100 jobs, most of which will be full time and filled by local workers, Martin said.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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