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A full flight simulator built by Frasca International.

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URBANA — To make room for a new flight simulator it is manufacturing, Frasca International Inc. is expanding its Urbana facility.

Frasca plans to add 11,000 square feet to its 85,000-square-foot office, spokeswoman Peggy Prichard said.

“We’re adding a building,” Prichard said. “We got a contract that requires a taller part of our manufacturing area because the device is so large.”

The contract calls for a top-of-the-line, Level D full flight simulator for an undisclosed foreign helicopter operator, Prichard said.

She declined to share the contract price, but full flight simulators typically cost between $5 million and $15 million.

“It looks like a big dome that’s on six big hydraulic legs that move up and down,” she said. “When the pilots get in there, there’s a wraparound visual. So they’re inside the cockpit, and they can see the actual simulated visual.

“And then when they start flying, it actually moves” to simulate different actions.

The Level D simulators are the “highest-fidelity device that the FAA approves” for simulation, Prichard said.

Construction on the expansion will begin this spring and wrap up later this year, Prichard said, and it typically takes 12 to 18 months to build a full flight simulator.

“We build it, the customers come check it out, we take it apart, ship it over, go over there and build it back,” Prichard said. “So then we have space for another full (simulator). Our long-term expansion plans have always been to do more full-flight” simulators.

This expansion will allow Frasca to build two Level D simulators and expand its total full flight simulator pads to five.

“Adding this manufacturing space is one visible element to our strategic plan to increase our engineering and manufacturing throughput,” President John Frasca said. “Other investments include 3D printing, network infrastructure upgrades and staffing additions.”

Despite COVID-19 leading to a drop in air travel, Prichard said Frasca has weathered the pandemic well and has been able to avoid layoffs.

“We feel really fortunate we didn’t have to lay anyone off,” she said. “We did work from home for a while, but most of us are back in the factory.”

While Prichard said some things were delayed, “we’ve been pretty fortunate to stay busy.”

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

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.

“We built it because we got a big contract, and we needed a bigger place, so it’s kind of like what we’re doing now,” Prichard said. “We’re not a really fast growing company. We’re steady, but we are doing a little bit of an expansion.”

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Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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