Image: Using flight simulators has helped me hone my real-world skills
We’ve all been there. You start chatting with somebody who’s a rated pilot and the topic of flight simulation comes up. Almost unanimously, your efforts to sell flight simulation as a viable supplement to flight training is met with what can only be described as aggressive skepticism.
As one prominent member of the flight simulation community put it, talking to pilots about flight simulation “usually goes down like a fart in a space suit.” Why does this happen?
Everyone from major airlines to small flight schools use Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD), Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD) and higher fidelity simulators to provide accurate, timely and cost effective training solutions to their students, customers and employees. Even under heavy scrutiny, there’s ample evidence to support the use of simulation in aviation training.
Whether you’re an aspiring pilot, a student pilot or an experienced rated pilot who’s looking for a viable platform to augment their real world experience, there are many ways to use a home flight simulator set-up to build or maintain skill sets that will positively transfer to real world flying. Here’s how:
1) Approach every simulated flight in the same manner that you would approach a real world flight. Have you looked at the weather? How much fuel do you require to legally complete the trip in your country? What are your VFR/IFR minimums (both legal and personal) for the trip? Given your total number of pax, baggage and fuel, what performance can you expect on a given day at your field of choice? These questions and hundreds more are the very same questions you’d be asking yourself before you’ve even stepped onto the ramp at your local airport. Provided you’re asking the same questions in the sim, there’s the opportunity to practice aeronautical decision making with the same positive result and without the significant and permanent negative consequences for failure.
2) Only practice skills that you’re reasonably familiar with. Although there’s nothing stopping you from teaching yourself a brand new skill in the sim, there is a much higher likelihood of negative training if you practice something incorrectly over a period of time. The sim is a great place however, to fine tune your technique. Remember that station passage you had on your last training trip that didn’t go so well? Run that same scenario again in the sim until you can get it right in your sleep. The next time you’re asked to do it in the aircraft, you’ll be very happy you spent the time to get it right on the ground.
3) Use a building block approach to your self-directed learning. When you first start using the sim as a training tool, practice one skill until you’re happy with the result. Then, take that skill and add one more to the overall picture. Continue training until you have mastered two skills, then add a third. Sound familiar? Flight instructors around the world use this very same approach to teach people how to fly in the system every day.
4) Once you’re comfortable flying the aircraft, it’s time to add one of the most daunting challenges for most young pilots. It’s time to fly in the system. Adding an ATC service like PilotEdge to your flight simulator set up will allow access to live air traffic control services 7 days a week. Practicing your VFR and IFR skill sets under the watchful eye of PilotEdge controllers adds two very important things. The first being accountability (yes, someone is watching your every move).
The second, is practicing your communication techniques and aeronautical decision-making in situations where hitting the pause button isn’t an option. I have personally seen well respected members of the simulation community absolutely humbled by this experience, and I think that demonstrates more than anything where the delta is between someone who uses flight simulators for entertainment, and someone who uses flight simulators for training. If your goal is training, you need to create a realistic environment, and PilotEdge is currently the only way to do that.
5) Last but not least, know the limitations of your simulator. As virtual pilots, we have some fantastic options insofar as platforms. Regardless of which software you choose to use, it’s paramount that you use a critical eye to identify the deficiencies of that platform. Does your chosen simulator accurately model icing? How about aircraft performance? Almost without exception, aircraft performance in the sim is much better than it is in the real airplane. Recognize and plan for these shortfalls, and you’ll set yourself up for success in the future.
Chris Stewart is an avid simmer and commercially rated pilot. He holds a degree in psychology from the University of Manitoba.