Sim you later

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Today is a major milestone in my professional life. After 19 years in one industry, 12 at the same company, I'm starting in a new business and a new position. I've made it a policy not to talk about my work on my blog, so while I won't be telling you about my new situation, I'm free at last to tell you about what I used to do for a living.

I found it hard to keep quiet about my old job. It's a company that does important work, and I worked with wonderful people doing very interesting stuff. I was proud to have been a part of the team for 12 years. The company has a significant impact on the Tulsa economy, providing hundreds of high-tech engineering and skilled manufacturing jobs, but it mostly escapes the notice of the politicians and the "economic development experts" at the Chamber of Comerce.

A week ago Friday was my last day as a Staff Engineer in the Computer Systems Group of FlightSafety International, Simulator Systems Division. FlightSafety, founded in 1951, operates a fleet of over 200 highly realistic FAA-certified aircraft simulators to train pilots. The company operates 43 learning centers across the U.S. and in Canada, France, and England. Many of the centers are adjacent to aircraft factories or maintenance centers -- for example, the Savannah center is next to Gulfstream's factory; the Fort Worth center is around the corner from Bell Helicopter's Hurst, Texas, facility. The purchase price of a corporate jet often includes FlightSafety training. FlightSafety also has learning centers near major regional airline hubs, such as Memphis, Cincinnati, and Manchester, England, where pilots can train to fly regional jets like the Canadair CRJ700 and the Embraer EMB-145. In addition to pilot training, the learning centers offer aircraft maintenance training for technicians and emergency evacuation training for flight attendants. Founded in 1951 by Al Ueltschi, in 1996 FlightSafety became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

The simulators for those centers are built in Broken Arrow by the Simulation Systems Division (SSD). SSD also builds simulators and other training devices for the military and for training companies and airlines in other parts of the world. SSD is currently in the middle of building simulators for Flight School XXI, a major U. S. Army helicopter pilot training initiative.

SSD employs about 600 people here in the Tulsa area. It is the largest private employer in the City of Broken Arrow. It has no local customers -- every penny of the payroll comes from revenues generated by training time sold by the learning centers or by simulator sales to outside customers. SSD also uses local companies for component manufacturing and software subcontracting, representing more outside dollars coming into the Tulsa economy. Remember that the next time some economic imbecile tells you that the convention business is the only way to bring new dollars into the local economy. Besides FlightSafety, at least three other companies build or upgrade flight simulators or training devices here in Tulsa: Thales Training and Simulation (once known as Burtek), Safety Training Systems, and Cymstar.

I worked in the Computer Systems Group, and most of the work I did involved getting the various computers and aircraft avionics systems that make up a simulator to talk with each other. At one time or another I wrote software for communicating via TCP/IP, UDP/IP, raw Ethernet, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), CANbus, DR11-W, ARINC 429 and MIL-STD-1553. I've worked on simulators for civilian aircraft like the Lear 31, Dassault Falcon 900, Gulfstream 450, 500, and 550, Bell 212, Bell 412, Canadair CRJ, Embraer EMB-145, Citation Jet, Citation Sovereign, and for military aircraft like the RAF's Griffin, USAF's KC-135 tanker, the T-6A Texan (Navy and Air Force primary training aircraft), and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

I traveled to FlightSafety learning centers in Savannah, Tucson, Wichita, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Teterboro and worked in East Aurora, New York, RAF Shawbury near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, and Altus AFB in southwest Oklahoma. For the most part, I enjoyed the opportunity to see a new place on the company dime, and I would get in as much exploration as I could while still getting the job done. I had only one really miserable trip, which was my last -- a three-day trip to the gloomy industrial hinterlands of northern New Jersey that stretched into 10 days.

Yes, I did get to fly the simulators once in a while, but usually only on visits to a learning center, because the simulators usually aren't fully assembled and operational when they leave the Broken Arrow facility. I feel confident that, in clear skies, with no wind or weather and no other planes in the air, I could take off, fly and land a plane, although not necessarily on the runway. A hazard of learning to fly via simulator is that a real aircraft doesn't have a "crash suppress" button.

FlightSafety's slogan is, "The best safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained pilot." It was good to be able to go to work every day knowing that my efforts were ultimately going toward saving lives. FlightSafety's simulators allow pilots to practice emergency situations without putting any lives at risk. In the simulator, a pilot can deal with engine failures, hydraulic failures, loss of instruments, and severe weather conditions like windshear. He can practice over and over again until his reflexes are trained to handle the situation in real life. In addition to the technical operation of the aircraft, FlightSafety puts emphasis on "crew resource management" -- pilot and copilot working together as a team, maintaining situational awareness at all times, working effectively and calmly during an unexpected situation.

It sounds cliched, but it's true: The best part of working for FlightSafety was the people I worked with. FlightSafety is blessed with friendly, intelligent, good-humored, talented, hard-working people. You hear about workplaces full of office intrigue, self-promotion, and backstabbing, but I never encountered any of that there. There’s a spirit of working together and doing what needs to be done to finish the job.

My new job is a great opportunity for career growth and advancement, one I couldn't turn down. I am, for the first time in my career, not working in a cubicle. Still, it wasn't easy to leave behind such a great place to work, and I wish the folks at FlightSafety all the best.


Dan Paden said:

Dude! You rock! Congratulations and good luck!

Mike said:


I look forward to the next time we talk, so I can learn more about your new venture.

Best wishes and God bless.

Don said:

"At one time or another I wrote software for communicating via TCP/IP, UDP/IP, raw Ethernet, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), CANbus, DR11-W, ARINC 429 and MIL-STD-1553."

Well, I can program my alarm clock to wake me to a buzzer or the radio...and to the station of my choosing!

Sounds like it was an amazing job. Best of luck in your new endeavors.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 2, 2005 5:25 PM.

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