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MTSU Aerospace Unveils New Air Traffic Control Simulator

Because of the darkened room conditions, Middle Tennessee State University Director of Athletics Chris Massaro thought President Sidney A. McPhee had moved the weekly President's Cabinet meeting to a location near Orlando, Fla., instead of across campus.

"It was one of the most impressive things I have seen on a college campus," Massaro said of the Department of Aerospace's unique Air Traffic Control Training and Research Facility. "It was easy to see the practical applications of the lab and the value it brings to a student interested in this field.

"When we first walked into the lab, I felt like I was entering something at Disney World, but that feeling soon ended when the students began their demonstration. It was very involved and very technical. We have some incredible students on our campus."

Fourteen other cabinet colleagues joined Massaro recently as some of the first administrators to tour the facility, which is located in Room S112 of the Business and Aerospace Building.

Aerospace Chair Dr. Wayne Dornan invites media to a special preview of the ATC Training and Research Facility Monday, March 14, at 10 a.m. in the BAS east lobby and BAS S112.

In both classes and laboratory training, students are gaining practical experience in the three-phase air traffic control simulators that resemble ATC facilities in a variety of major airports, including Nashville, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Upon entering the room, visitors first view the pseudopilot positions. They next go into the tower lab, a seamless 360-degree fiberglass screen that rises to nine feet with a diameter of 29 feet.

Ten high-definition digital projectors "create the most realistic tower simulator available today," said Gail Zlotky, an associate professor of aerospace and coordinator of MTSU's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative.

"This tower simulator will contain seven operational positions: two local, two ground, flight-data, clearance-delivery and cab-coordinator."

Computer Science Corporation, which won the contract to provide the tower and radar simulators to MTSU last summer, has delivered a simulated-tower environment for the Memphis and Nashville air traffic systems, Zlotky said.

The third tour stop is the 10-suite radar lab, which "can simulate both en- route and radar-approach control environments," she said. Each position contains a touch-screen communication panel, digital radar display, flight-progress strip bay and more.

Josh Curtis, a senior aerospace major from Douglas, Ga., had high praise for the facility, which will aid in preparing them for training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.

"The new ATC simulators and training facility means more than any non-ATC student can imagine," he said. "There is a huge difference between learning classroom material and actually putting it into play in a simulated environment. While we had technology to help put what we learn into practice, this new technology far surpasses what the school used to have.

"Our new tower simulator really gives the feeling of what it's like to actually be in a real-world tower and being able to see in every direction, as opposed to some tower simulators that would only give you 180 degrees of visibility. Not only can we see planes landing on the runways, but we can see the planes that are coming in from behind us and put in perspective what we see on the radar screen.

"If it wasn't for MTSU's awesome ATC program and the new simulators, I wouldn't live 3½ hours away from my wife," Curtis continued. "To know that I, along with my classmates, am among the first participants in this new age of ATC training is something I will be proud of all of my life."

Dornan told cabinet members that MTSU's facility is "the only simulator of its type in the world" and can create "any kind of weather—-rain or snow" for training.

"It is just one example of the many high-quality and unique academic programs available at MTSU. I am proud of the aerospace faculty for working so hard to bring the facility to our campus," said Dr. Warner Cribb, geosciences professor and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate.

"The air traffic control simulator ... is an outstanding example of MTSU being out in front with new technologies for use by our faculty and students," added Dr. Pat Geho, director of the MTSU Small Business Development Center and an associate professor of business communication and entrepreneurship.

Dornan, Zlotky, MTSU staffers (and Federal Aviation Administration retirees) Ed Johnson and Bill Stewart, new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Director Kyle Snyder and AT-CTI assistant Adam Gerald joined students to talk about their various roles with the cabinet members.

After March 14, media and others interested in the facility, Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative or aerospace program in general can call 615-898-2788. Dornan and Zlotky welcome your inquiries.

About the ATC simulator

Computer Science Corporation was awarded the project and delivered the equipment to MTSU. The Air Traffic Control Training and Research Facility includes a seamless, 360-degree fiberglass control tower, the only one like it in the world, rising to 9 feet and a diameter of 29 feet, and has 10 high-definition digital projectors that will create the most realistic tower simulation available today; and 10 radar suites that can simulate both en route and radar approach control environments; and a pseudopilot positions area. Work also has begun on an interface with the CSC NexSim simulator in the ATC lab and the dispatch lab with its NexSim ramp tower and aircraft simulators at Murfreesboro Airport.

Presently, the technology can simulate the FAA Training Academy in Oklahoma City (fictional), Nashville International Airport, Memphis International Airport (under construction), Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Daytona Beach International Airport, Elizabeth City, N.C., Coast Guard Air Station/Regional Airport and the Akron-Canton, Ohio, Regional Airport.

About MTSU’s Department of Aerospace

MTSU aerospace began as a flight-training program in 1942. At the time, the airport was located on the University’s 500-acre campus and the program was under the direction of one full-time instructor. In 1969, it was proposed that a full four-year aviation curriculum be developed and than an independent department be established. On July 1, 1971, the aerospace department became fully autonomous with an enrollment of 58 students. The department has grown into one of the largest and most respected programs in the nation. It employs 17 full-time faculty members with more than 50 full- and part-time staff. It now has more than 700 majors, with concentrations in aerospace administration, technology, flight dispatch, maintenance management and professional pilot. The program has been nationally accredited since 1992. It is one of nine departments in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and one of MTSU’s signature programs.

In regard to the flight-training program, the department has the largest and most technically advanced Diamond DA40 single-engine training aircraft fleet in the United States, and was the first collegiate aviation program to teach students in glass cockpits. The department also has a CRJ-200 flight simulator and a decommissioned Boeing 727 airliner donated by FedEx.

Visit online to learn more about the department.

Dr. Wayne Dornan, aerospace chair, 615-898-2788 or; Tom Tozer and Randy Weiler, MTSU News, 615-898-2919

Bring a camera. Meet the students. Talk to the MTSU officials who are making this possible. It is anticipated that FAA and Computer Science Corp. officials will attend.

Tom Tozer | Newswise Science News
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