These days, virtually every US airline pilot gets signed off in an FAA-certified full flight simulator – NOT an actual airplane. If you hop on a regional airline flight in an ERJ, it is entirely possible that your pilot could be flying their initial operating experience (IOE) flight, flying the “real” aircraft for the very first time in their life. This is possible because all training up to their first live flight can legally be done in a simulator.
Simulators make sense for a lot of reasons, including costs, safety, and efficiency. Simulations technology is not just used in flight training – healthcare, agriculture, construction, rail transport, and mining industries all use simulation. It works because it can replicate real experiences and emergencies, allowing people to improve skills while mitigating risk.
As a student pilot, you can use simulation technology to make you a better pilot. A simulator is an important step between learning and flying. The phrase, “learn it, sim it, fly it,” outlines these steps. A simulator is especially valuable for mastering:
- Checklist usage: Sitting in the simulator, you can practice the steps of various phases of taxi and flight. Repeating flows over and over will make you more comfortable, and more proficient.
- Radio communications: Practicing everyday communications and emergency flight calls, you can become accustomed to communicating calmly and effectively. The Aviation Radio Simulator, ARSim, by PlaneEnglish has more than 200 lessons to guide you through each phase of flight, including unusual situations during taxi or flight.
- Maneuvers: Mastering maneuvers will help you navigate an aircraft better. Use a simulator to practice steep turns, stalls, S-Turns, turns around a point, and more. For example, your steep turn maneuver might be:
- Select minimum entry altitude of 2,000 feet AGL
- Verify the area is clear of traffic by executing shallow turns
- Decrease power to 2100-2200 RPM
- Establish recommended airspeed of 95 knots
- Establish a cardinal heading – North, South, East, or west
- Coordinate aileron and rudder to roll into a 45 degree banked turn
- Use power (throttle) to maintain the desired airspeed.
- Use back pressure on the yoke to maintain altitude
- Divide attention between outside (horizon) and inside (flight instruments)
- Maintain altitude and bank angle through the turn
- Reference altimeter and heading indicator to maintain altitude and plan rollout.
- Emergencies: Emergency procedures help you prepare to immediately land the aircraft should you need to. Using a simulator allows you to calmly go through the emergency checklist without burning fuel or put stress on the airframe.
Whether you are a student pilot or working on advanced ratings, a simulator is one of the best resources available to learn and improve skills. To get your private pilot certificate, you still must complete much of the specific training in an aircraft, including cross country flights, night flights, your solo flight, takeoffs and landings, and the required 3 hours of training within 2 calendar months of your practical test. But, the FAA will allow you to use 2.5 hours of simulator time towards the minimum 40 hours of aeronautical experience requirements for your private pilot certificate. Use this time to save a little money on an aircraft rental and experience the benefits that come with simulator flying.