3 overlooked simulator takeaways for student pilots

When the first consumer flight simulator came to market in 1979, there were very few (if any) takeaways for pilots. If you had a marginal comprehension of aerodynamics, you could understand why airspeed is exchanged for altitude when transitioning from cruise to climb. But to the student pilot, hieroglyphics were easier to decipher. Fast forward 43 years to today and Moore’s law has been very favorable to the digital pilot, in addition to those with the aviation bug who haven’t realized it yet. As most would assume, today’s simulators are helpful in showing how an airplane reacts in the air (and on the ground), but there are a few lesser known areas of airmanship a simulator can teach. 

 

1. Electronic flight bag familiarization

Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) are becoming more and more the norm on today’s flight deck. The years of lugging around approach plates or sectional charts covering large sections of the US are a thing of the past; we now have the ability to store all pertinent information on a tablet or phone. Today’s simulator software allows ease of connection to popular EFB programs and opens a lot of doors towards testing the latest features. Don’t settle for a static map on your tablet—use a simulator to put it in motion and learn all the tools. AHRS traffic targets and 3D airport representations are some of the features I’ve recently been enjoying using my EFB in tandem with a flight simulator. For more information on how to connect an at-home simulator with popular EFBs, click here. To keep a digital flight deck organized, take advantage of the Flight Sim EFB desk mount that can attach any iPad (in or out of a case) on a table or desk ledge up to 1.5 inches thick. 

 

2. Communications training

One of the more intimidating areas of flight training for me was the requirement to communicate while flying the airplane. It wasn’t so much keeping the aircraft on course while hitting the transmit button, it was the idea of using incorrect terminology or taking longer than required to relay my message and putting other pilots out. Flight simulators provide a great tool with which to practice this skill. Most simulators offer a native AI communications ability that brings a small layer of realism to the digital flight deck, but typically its logic and flow is not representative of real life. For that reason, we recommend using either VATSIM or PilotEdge to communicate with live people while flying a simulator.

VATSIM, or Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network, allows you to fly around the world with other digital aviators and communicate with living, breathing fellow simmers who are playing the part of air traffic controllers, tower operators, or other digital pilots. A typical day sees 7,000 users on VATSIM. For increased realism, PilotEdge will increase the professionalism by utilizing real world professional Air Traffic Controllers who are employed by PilotEdge in their free time. The intimidation hurdle that I experienced early on would have disappeared if I’d had PilotEdge at my disposal during training, because I would have been strengthening my communication skills with real life controllers. The quid pro quo is that because these controllers are employed by PilotEdge and financially compensated for their specialty, there is a subscription fee for all members of PilotEdge.

 

3. Cross country preflights

When flying into a new airport, it can be intimidating to use a new title/terminology over the radio; know when to start a descent to pattern altitude; or figure out how to spot the airport before you’re turning downwind. With the continuous outside the airplane improvements in simulator software, we’re now able to experience surprisingly accurate approach profiles for locations we’re flying to. Microsoft Flight Simulator uses Bing Maps to populate accurate terra firma and assist our flight with visual cues. You’re able to verify your track based off when you fly over those train tracks that intercept your course, or you can familiarize yourself with the downtown buildings piercing the skyline that assist in verifying your planned course. This offers increased value when you practice night cross countries and have to rely on fewer visual cues. 

 

At-home flight simulators present an obviously enjoyable way to pass the time. Popular video hosting sites contain countless hours of users flying aerobatics around the Burj Khalifa, buzzing the tower in afterburner mode, or recreating digital airline flights. But they’ve also reached the point of offering useful features that can assist in strengthening a burgeoning pilot’s abilities and improve early confidence levels to hopefully flatten learning curves. 

For additional Flight Simulator content, check out Sporty’s Flight Sim Starter Guide. With over 45 videos and 36 blogs/tutorials, it’s a helpful tool for up and coming digital aviators. 

2 replies
  1. Tony Vallillo says:

    This is certainly true, and has been for around a decade or so, ever since PC based flight simulation has gotten the graphic capabilities to present a good view out the window. Ditto for Pilot Edge and VATSIM, along with IVAO (another volunteer based ATC network). There is no reason for mic fright anymore with these training aids!

    Even professional pilots get good practice from a modern PC based system. I used it for years when I was flying the line for a major airline, and I still use it for CAP practice. Now if only I could fit a 727 nose section into my basement…….!

  2. Richard G says:

    VFR wasn’t very good until Google or even Bing maps were made available. You can go fly your flight inside the Sim and see what your flight will look like now. VFR points can be seen now. In VR even pattern work is possible. You can look where you want to go, and look back and do cross checks, then look where you are going.
    Now you can set sims to randomly simulate everything from a bird strike, to inadvertent IMC.

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