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