McKINNEY — The McKinney ISD Aviation program is soaring to new heights with the recent addition of a Redbird LD Flight Simulator. Purchased from Austin-based Redbird Flight Simulations using Career and Technical Education (CTE) grant money, the simulator now resides at McKinney North High School, and its presence makes the McKinney Aviation program the only one of its kind in North Texas equipped with an FAA approved flight simulator.

Occupying an entire office space at McKinney North, this training device sports all the bells and whistles of an airplane cockpit and features a 180-degree virtual view supplied by six large video screens. Sitting in front of it makes an XBox look about as interesting as an Atari 2600.

But, make no mistake – this is no game. With the supervision of a certified flight instructor, the Redbird LD offers aviation students the chance to log actual FAA approved flight hours in pursuit of a private pilot’s license.

“To be able to purchase an approved FAA flight simulator with the quality that Redbird offers has been a dream of mine since we started planning this program,” said Tamy Smalskas, McKinney ISD Director of Special Projects and CTE.

“This simulator is usually only found at official flight schools, so for a public school district to be able to offer this caliber of training is very rare,” Smalskas said. A few districts in North Texas offer some type of aviation training, but according to a contact at the North Central Texas Council of Government, none but McKinney ISD provide an FAA approved flight simulator.


The flight simulator is a boon for all of the District’s aviation students – more than 200 have enrolled for this fall – but, particularly for those who simply cannot afford the full cost of flight school.

“I want this program to be available for all kids,” said Smalskas.

The simulator goes a long way toward making that possible by alleviating some of the expense associated with actual in-flight training – which costs students about $150 per hour. To qualify for a solo flight test, students must log approximately 10 hours of supervised flight training. And, that gets expensive very quickly.

At some point, each of those students will have to deal with the cost of actually getting up in the air, but according to Smalskas, the simulator can reduce their total cost of flight training by nearly half. And, Smalskas plans to continue exploring ways to make the program as affordable as possible. Which means more opportunities for more kids.

And, for Smalskas, that is the most important thing.

“McKinney ISD will have the best CTE program in the nation if I have anything to do with it,” said Smalskas. “You have to have a vision, set your goals and just go for it. Seek out the professional advice of businesses in the industry and listen to them. Don’t let money stop anything!”

“If there is a will, there is a way to make anything happen.”

And, with that attitude, the sky is the limit.

For additional information on the McKinney ISD Aviation program, contact Tamy Smalskas, MISD Director of Special Projects and CTE, at 469-302-4111 or

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Specialist, at 469-302-4007 or


About McKinney ISD

One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,000 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, one alternative school and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at