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Frasca International lands biggest-ever contract for Navy helicopter simulators

Maj. Grant Pennington, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Marine Aviation Training Systems Site officer in charge, performs tests run of the new AV-8B Harrier simulator May 19, 2009. (Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard/U.S. Navy)

In its 60th year, Frasca International has landed the largest contract in company history.

Over the next two years, the Urbana-based flight-simulation company will build 10 helicopter simulators for pilots training at a Naval air station in Florida.

It’s part of a $73 million military contract awarded to Colorado-based FlightSafety Services Corp. Frasca will build the simulators as a subcontractor; FlightSafety will train the pilots.

“We have to deliver all 10 devices within 22 months after the contract was awarded,” said Randy Gawenda, Frasca’s business development manager. They’ll help “train over 600 Naval and Marine Corps roto-aviators per year.”

Frasca was founded in 1958 by Rudy Frasca, a flight instructor for the Navy who attended the University of Illinois and invented his own flight simulator.

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The company was located on the southeast corner of Neil and Green streets in Champaign until 1990, when the factory moved to Frasca Field in north Urbana.

The company sells simulators around the world — to aviation schools, commercial airlines or in this case, the Navy.

The Navy’s existing simulators are 30 years old, Gawenda said, so this contract “allowed them to go basically from worst to first in terms of simulation technology.”

“This will be a big leap for them,” he said.

A simulator looks like a cockpit extended in a big fish bowl made of screens projecting a world around the pilot, Gawenda said.

They’re kind of like the flight simulators at amusement parts, just a “little bit more professional- or commercial-grade,” he said. “They’re similar in concept, but different in practical application.”

They’ll simulate a TH-57 Sea Ranger, with three simulators featuring a 180-degree-by-40-degree field of view with a vibration system.

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The other seven will have a wider 240-degree-by-70-degree field of view that allows for simulating hovering and other advanced maneuvers.

And if the Navy upgrades to a new type of aircraft or a more advanced Sea Ranger, Gawenda said their simulators are adaptable.

“Our design is very modular,” he said. “If they do get new helicopters, it would be a fairly straightforward transition for them.”

Frasca has about 150 employees, and “most of us will be involved” with the Navy contract in some capacity, Gawenda said.

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© 2018 The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.