National Flight Simulator named Veteran-owned business of the year

October 04, 2020

MANCHESTER - Steve Cunningham launched National Flight Simulator after buying a flight simulator.

"I would like to think it was a brilliant business plan, but it was by accident," he told a crowd gathered at his leased space at the Manchester Regional Airport.

Now, he operates five state-of-the-art simulators and is the only insurance company-approved simulator-based training center in New England.

"I went from one sim in a broom closet to all of this," he said.

On Friday, Cunningham, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was awarded with New Hampshire's Veteran-owned business of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

He began his career in aviation in 1960 as an Air Force mechanic. He worked for the Boys & Girls Club for 22 years and served as the president and CEO of the United States Aerobatic Foundation before founding National Flight Simulator in 2006.

Wendell Davis, New England regional administrator for the SBA, said small businesses like National Flight Simulator are leading the economic recovery and providing much needed jobs.

The SBA has been a lifeline, Cunningham said.

"When COVID hit and the bottom fell out of everything, we didn't know what we were going to do," he said.

The SBA came through with the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program loans, he said.

The business is now able to grow again, Cunningham said. He believes there will be a boost in general aviation because of the dip in the commercial plane industry.

Before the ceremony, Cunningham assisted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in flying a Cessna 172 in one of the simulators. The machines can simulate cabin-class piston twins, turboprop twins, high performance single-engine and turboprop single-engine aircraft.

Shaheen said innovation by small business owners like Cunningham creates two-thirds of all jobs.

"It is impressive to see what National Flight Simulator has done," she said. "To hear talking about taking an idea and now see an interest and the kind of business they are doing."

There have been talks on the federal level about a pilot shortage, she said.

"To have this kind of facility is not only helpful for the private sector, but the help that they’ve provided to other countries."

Mayor Joyce Craig also tried it out.

"We thank you for your commitment to the community of Manchester for having your small business here and for following your passion when you retired and staying with aviation and growing your business in Manchester."

The simulators can create different scenery and weather conditions on screens that cover a pilot’s field of view. The business also has a 17-seat testing center for occupational exams and an area for people to sign up for TSA PreCheck.

The company trains military pilots for the Ecuadorian and Colombian air forces along with pilots from across the country.

Cunningham hopes to work with homeless veterans in his retirement to find adequate housing, mental and physical health care and jobs.

He said he was humbled to receive the award.

"This mask can’t show the smile that I have right now," he said. "I really do appreciate the support we receive from the city and state."

By:  Jonathan Phelps
Source: Union Leader