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TakeFlight CEO Brandon Seltz
TakeFlight CEO Brandon Seltz takes the controls at a workstation equipped with software that guides users through the flight training process. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

RENTON, Wash. — The makers of software such as Microsoft Flight Simulator usually say their programs are meant for entertainment, not actual flight training — but there’s a venture called TakeFlight Interactive that’s using enhanced simulations to get future pilots up to speed more quickly.

Part of the enhancement is adding a virtual instructor to the mix.

“There’s so much latent power in a desktop simulation,” Brandon Seltz, founder and CEO of the Redmond, Wash.-based venture, told GeekWire. “But the instructional element of flight training has never been simulated.”

TakeFlight is taking on that challenge: The company’s developers have created an assortment of software modules for general, commercial and military flight training that includes a voice assistant to let you know when you should pull back on the controls or give the throttle a push.

The service is gaining traction: Seltz says TakeFlight has more than 1,500 users, including students at institutions ranging from Seattle’s Raisbeck Aviation High School to Purdue and Liberty University. Simulation stations are up and running at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and at Rainier Flight Service in Renton. The software has also been adapted for use by the Experimental Aviation Association in its Virtual Flight Academy and Young Eagles programs.

TakeFlight sells training packages online for $30. Users also have to be running a flight simulation program, such as the Steam edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator X or Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D software. Seltz also expects to adapt the lessons for Microsoft’s next version of Flight Simulator, which is due for release in 2020.

“Ultimately we want to run on all the sims … and so we’ve built a simulator-agnostic platform,” Seltz said.

Seltz certainly knows his way around flight simulations: He spent seven years as a game designer at Microsoft, working on versions of Flight Simulator and Microsoft Flight. Before founding TakeFlight in 2015, he was director of scenario development for Redbird Flight Simulations.

TakeFlight’s software sits on top of a simulator, focusing the experience on the skills that pilots have to perfect in order to get their license. One module, for example, has users guide their virtual plane through a series of glowing rings in a virtual sky. Another takes the users through the steps for a landing and scores them on how well they execute those steps.

“Our software is very much like a game experience,” Seltz said. And the company is very much like a game company. Seltz described TakeFlight as a virtual studio with 10 employees working in locales such as Olympia and Wenatchee in Washington state, plus Florida and Hawaii. “We are hiring,” he said.

To lay the groundwork for expansion, TakeFlight issued a convertible debt offering that has raised $155,000 so far, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We want to borrow as little as possible to get ourselves to the next milestone,” Seltz said. “Luckily, we have generated revenue, so really we’ve been supplementing that revenue when we see opportunities ahead where we need to scale a bit to meet that opportunity.”

And Seltz definitely sees opportunities ahead — so much so that he’s now thinking about closing out the debt offering and doing an equity round.

“What’s such a good opportunity for our business right now is [that] the pilot shortage that everybody is hearing so much about is manifesting itself as an instructor shortage. As you can imagine, every qualified pilot who could fly an airliner is getting sucked right into the industry,” he said. “So it’s leaving universities turning away students in a way they never have before, because they don’t have an instructor for an airplane to meet the demand from the students.”

Seltz said TakeFlight can help fill the gap.

“A lot of those universities do say, ‘Hey, we recommend students fly TakeFlight before ever getting in the airplane,’ ” he said.

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