Tip of the week #4

Use simulators

Although the FAA only allows 2.5 hours of simulator time to count toward the total required for the private pilot certificate, you are selling yourself and your training short if you don’t utilize one for this reason. Various studies have found that in almost every required pilot knowledge and flight task, time spent in the simulator before getting in the airplane equaled less time in the air. And in the world of flight training, time is literally money.

What can you do in a simulator? Anything. From preflight inspection to navigation, a simulator is a great resource. And just because your instructor isn’t sitting beside you doesn’t mean the time isn’t valuable. Take navigation as an example. Intercepting and tracking VOR radials can be an abstract skill to learn. But in any simulator, even those considered games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, the transfer of knowledge comes quick and easy. You can easily reposition the airplane, look at your ground track from a bird’s-eye view, and pause the simulation as much as you want to work things out in your head.

Remember, flying is more of a mental exercise than a physical one. You don’t need to feel like you’re inside an airplane to advance your learning.

If your school doesn’t have a simulator, make the minor investment for a piece of home software. And forget about the logbook. Because if you learn how to do many of these things in a simulator first, your logbook will be much closer to 40 hours when you take your practical test.

–Ian J. Twombly

  • http://airwaystoairways.blogspot.com Ben

    I spent a lot of time in my flight training playing microsoft flight simulator. While it is definitely a game more than a real-world sim, I think it did help me grasp a lot of concepts without having to pay for plane and instructor.

  • http://AOPA Jim

    My time on MSFSim has saved many repetitions of maneuvers. Equating to money saved while flying.

  • rodney harris

    i must say that i use flight sin 2004 for everthing flying i practice slow flight stall and improve landings .thi sis the best tool for all piot . i can fly a route before i do it real-time and set internent wx condition so wca and headwind gound speed is cacl, but most of i learned not to panic when things do go wrong and they do in sims al well

  • Gerard

    When I was a student doing my cross country flights to places I had never been before, I would fly those routes on FSX a couple of days prior, just to get a feel for what the big picture would look like. I think that preparation helped with my flight planning and confidence for those flights.

    I still occasionally use FSX to practice challenging approaches. FSX does not simulate the actual flying and control inputs very well. But I think it is great tool for the student to practice navigation, working through instrument approaches and using checklist.

    It is also an excellent tool for practicing use of GPS. It simulates various Garmin models, all the way up to the G1000, but it actually is good practice tool for most brands of GPS as they all use a similar menu layout. Bumpy IMC is not the time to be learning how to load an approach into the GPS, the ground is the best place for that. If you own your plane you can take your GPS home with you, but if you rent, FSX is a great place to practice pushing all the buttons.

  • Ben Evans RFC

    Yes, Computer Flight Sims can help keep you current on instrument scanning. I worked out a few hour on a sim when I was working on my rating 15 years ago. The best personal computer flight simulator that is available and the one I use is “X-PLANE”. This sim is built for active pilots by active pilot. Microsoft FS is great game software package but it was not built for profession active pilots. Enjoy X-Plane

  • Chip

    I am curious to know if the recommendation for using a simulator (like MSFS), is only beneficial if using all the flight controls…or if a joystick will accomplish the same effect. I do not usually play video games. I am interested in the MSFS but do not want to have to buy all the pedals, yokes, etc., to make it realistic.

    Any thoughts?

  • Harry L. Weatherford

    BATDs, and AATDs certified before the August 21, 2009 change to FAR 61.57 have a letter of Authorization allowing instrument currency is accordance with 61.57(c)(1). This is because their letter of Authorization says they can, and also says until modified or resended.

    In August of 2009 61.57 added new subparagraphs (c)(2), and (c)(3). It is my position that previously authorized AATD and BATD equipment (see their letters of Authorization) may still be used to maintain instrument currency in accordance with (c)(1), and equipment certified after August 2009 must be used in accordance with the new subparagraphs.

    I could use some help with this, but please no shooting from the hip answers.

  • michael

    I am a Student pilot just starting. Which sim is the best one to get for home base training?

  • harry

    The MS simulator was the only one mentioned – does anyone recommend a more instructional sim? I can’t find any actual reviews. I’d like one that will accomodate control accessories.
    Thanks in advance!

  • Darrell

    Chip, in my opinion, you do not need all the controls to get great benefit from a sim. Particularly for instrument training, the skills you can perfect with the sim are the instrument scan, interpretation, and thinking like an instrument pilot in terms of “what’s next?” and “what am I going to do when I see it?”. I’m a CFI/CFII/MEI … we use Redbird FMX full motion sims as a training supplement to all certificates with amazing results.

  • drew

    So, Ian, please give a short list of, say, three sims regular people/students might purchase from simple, intermediate, and more advanced (all in sophistication and cost) that you recommend.

  • http://www.aopa.org Ian Twombly


    Good question. I’m going to defer to readers. I’ve used Microsoft and find it to be quite useful and good. I’ve never used X Plane, but I’ve heard great things. Those are both low end.

    On the mid range, Elite is the big name. Their sims are quite good. You can incorporate all kinds of aircraft controls, they can be FAA-approved, and the it’s a purpose-built training tool.

    For higher end stuff, I say leave it to the flight school. I’ve flown a Redbird and find them to be fantastic. Ditto for the higher end Frasca as well.

    What does everyone else think?

  • Justin

    I used Microsoft Flight Sim 2004 and X to practice navigation. You can download and install photo-realistic scenery for the area you fly in and practice VFR navigation while using your real charts. For peripherals I use a CH Products Flight Yoke, Throttle Quadrant, and rudder pedals. You can download a very realistic model of most any aircraft you may train in that will let you follow a real checklist almost to the letter.

  • Common Sense

    I like the Elite sim. I set it up to closely replicate my Bonanza. It is a bit over sensitive on pitch and in that respect it is harder to fly that the real thing. I also like the Garmin 530 sim, downloaded from the Garmin website, to fly unfamiliar approaches before flying them for real.