FlightSafety International delivers major impact on flight training industry
The massive structure here that houses the Oklahoma manufacturing operations of FlightSafety International stretches more than two football fields in length and stands a full three stories in height.
FlightSafety’s Broken Arrow campus is a high tech, innovative outpost for a 68-year-old New York-based aeronautics services company that employs 4,500 people around the world in jobs ranging from pilot training to designing and building flight simulators for some of the world’s most advanced aircraft.
Founded in 1951 at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, FlightSafety is now a division of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Scott Goodwin, FlightSafety’s vice president for Simulation, explained in during a recent tour, “Our flagship products are full flight simulators that go to commercial and government customers, as well as our own internal customers,” Goodwin said. “We have a very technical industry and a very highly specialized product that requires a lot of technical skill to design and manufacture. So, recruiting the right people is a constant challenge.”
Among the 640 employees at FlightSafety’s Broken Arrow campus are almost 240 electrical, mechanical and software engineers, Goodwin said. They are challenged to duplicate cockpits exactly and create software mimicking flight conditions, airports and airspace worldwide.
Flight simulators are essential to aircraft manufacturers, corporations, airlines and military for training pilots, he said. FlightSafety is one of four main competitors in the simulator industry.
FlightSafety’s presence here creates a huge ripple across Oklahoma’s economy, directly supporting thousands of jobs at firms that support its operation, said Kinnee Tilly, vice president of Business Development and Operations for the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance.
Among the 1,000 vendors that provide parts and services for the Broken Arrow campus are 300 Oklahoma-based companies.
“FlightSafety supports hundreds of smaller companies through their supply chain, buying thousands of parts each year to be used in the production of their flight simulators,” Tilly said. “The multipliers attached to these vendors have no doubt been instrumental in creating jobs in the economy.”
Goodwin led us out on a walkway that overlooked most of the manufacturing floor where we could see about half a dozen giant simulators in various stages of assembly. Each is supported by six legs that comprise the motion system, which adds realism to the simulators’ operation.
Development of the electric components that control the motion system was supported by a small grant two decades ago from OCAST’s Oklahoma Applied Research Support program.
“Each set of the actuators is worth in the mid-six figure dollar range,” Goodwin said. “We have used 25 to 30 of those sets a year over the last 15 years. Talk about an economic impact from a very small OCAST seed money. And it has become the industry standard; everybody uses those now.”
The relationship between FlightSafety and OCAST continues today through the Oklahoma Intern Partnerships program, a cost-share program in which the company employs promising college students who tackle complex problems.
“They send us some sharp folks, and we are trying to figure out how to hire them after they graduate,” Goodwin said. “They are writing new software interfaces for us and are doing very, very well.”
Before we left FlightSafety’s manufacturing floor, Goodwin allowed us to look at a small plaque embedded on an inside wall of one of the simulators being assembled.
“Everybody who had a hand in building this simulator will come in and sign this tag,” he said.
The plaque read, “Proudly designed and manufactured in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.”