Urbana-based Frasca International marks half-century

The Frasca family includes: front row, Rudy Frasca and wife Lucille; middle row, son Bob Frasca, left, and daughter Liz Berry, far right; back row, from left, son David Frasca, grandson Nic Hansen, son Tom Frasca, son-in-law Gene Johnson, daughter Mary Johnson, grandson Eric Johnson, daughter Petty Prichard, son-in-law Joel Prichard and son John Frasca.

URBANA — The founder of Frasca International is being remembered as a titan of the flight simulator industry who lived a full life.

Rudy Frasca died Monday in Savoy at the age of 89.


Rudy Frasca talks with friends at Wednesday's event honoring him as Parkland College's Entrepreneur of the Year at the I Hotel in Champaign.

Mr. Frasca’s influence could be felt across the world, family friend Jim Barham said.

“Any time I meet a pilot during a layover delay ... they always mention Frasca. Every single time,” Barham said, because “they have had some experience on a Frasca trainer. He really did change the industry.”

Mr. Frasca started learning to fly when he was 14, became an instructor in the Navy, then attended the University of Illinois, where he researched aviation psychology and maintained simulators at the UI’s Aviation Research Lab.

He built his own flight simulator in his garage and in 1958, founded Frasca Aviation, which was later renamed to Frasca International.

It 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.

“Rudy really changed the simulator industry and did it right here,” Barham said. “It’s still one of the world leaders.”

The company, now more than 60 years old, sells simulators around the world — to aviation schools, commercial airlines and the Navy.

Mr. Frasca served as the grand marshal in the 2015 Champaign County Freedom Celebration Parade and was named the V. Dale Cozad Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.

“He and his wife Lucille, who was as much a part of the company as he was, built Frasca International into what it is today, along with his children,” said Urbana attorney Dick Thies, who kept an airplane at Frasca Field and represented Mr. Frasca from time to time.

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Rudy Frasca, who was named the 2013 V. Dale Cozad Entrepreneur of the Year by the Parkland College Foundation.

Mr. Frasca had eight children, many of whom are still involved in the company.

“It was a typical Italian family. Everything was family oriented,” Barham said. “His family was everything to him.”

Barham said Mr. Frasca could be stern — “He used to scare me if we did something wrong” — but he also had a sense of humor.

“He was a jokester, and I’d fall for it every time,” Barham said. “He’d see me in the parking lot, he’d say, ‘I made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.’ But it was the mailing tag.”

Mr. Frasca also organized fly-ins, collected antique planes and wrote a book about his love of aviation called “From Cubs to Spitfires.”

“He flew probably every day of life until he wasn’t able to,” Barham said.

“He loved to fly,” Thies said. “He was just a wonderful person.”

ALR rudy frasca

Provided by Mike Smeltzer Rudy Frasca soars above Champaign-Urbana in one of his vintage World War II fighter planes in 1987 for a photo taken by Gary Eifert that appeared in the book ‘C-U in Seven.’ This plane was used in the filming of ‘Tora, Tora, Tora!’



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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