Simulators: Removing the rust or learning to fly?
Flight simulators are part of
the job for airline and most other commercial pilots.
But many private, general aviation flyers may never have
set foot inside one. For almost all pilots, the Cessna
150 was the beginning. Back in the day, it was cheap
and easy enough to fly that the first solo could easily
be done by most students well before the minimum dual
hours were complete. Besides, there were fewer
distractions for most of us when we learned to fly.
Although controlled airspace was part of the learning
environment, things didn’t seem so complicated.
Flying the 150 was not a huge
drain on our pocketbooks. It’s a different story
today. But on-going training, IFR renewals, type
ratings and even currency requirements can usually be
done in simulators. They’ve become so realistic that
there are stories about pilots experiencing motion
sickness in them. With so many advantages to sim
training as opposed to using the real, and expensive
aircraft, we’ll not see simulators going away. There
will be more, and they will continue to get better.
As we move into the warmer
weather, plenty of airplanes that have been tucked away
in hangars all winter, will soon see the light of day.
Many of the pilots who own these aircraft, may be just a
little rusty with their skills at this point in time.
Which brings up the question: How can we make
simulators more easily accessible to the private pilot
who is not required to, nor is given the opportunity to
remove that winter rust? Of course he can always hire
an instructor for a couple of hours and use his own
plane for that purpose. But what if the local flying
club actually owned a simulator? The members could sit
down and brush up on skills anytime. The expense after
the initial cost of it would be minimal. A table-top
model might be just fine. It would be available to fly
even when the weather outside was bad. And it could be
a learning experience for all the people in the room at
the time of the lesson.
The argument could be made
that flying a simulator is not like flying the real
airplane. That of course is at least partially true.
An IFR renewal for instance, is one example of the value
of a simulator. But when it comes to the mechanics and
skill required to fly a cross-wind landing, or some
serious steep turns and slow flight exercises, I think
those would best be achieved in the aircraft.
The question of whether a
student could go from a simulator to flying solo with no
actual dual instruction in an airplane has been asked.
Initially, like most other pilots, I was skeptical. But
don’t bet that it can’t be done. I came across a blog
one day that discussed a very interesting experiment.
The blogger is an airline pilot and an instructor. He
heard about a young fellow who had never been inside a
small airplane, nor had he received any flight
instruction. Yet this “student” felt he could get into
a Cessna 172, and fly it utilizing the skills he’d
learned during many hours on his home computer and a
flight simulator program.
This blogger offered to
sit in the right seat as a safety pilot. The agreement
was that if he thought the “student” were getting into
trouble, control would be assumed immediately by the
safety pilot, and the experiment would be over.
The simulator pilot installed
a few cameras inside the aircraft to record this flight,
and after some editing, the video was posted on the
internet. At the time of this writing, it was available
on YouTube at this web address: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJT_CACIZqs
(Be sure to use the UNDERSCORE between the JT and the
If for some reason you’re
unable to bring up the video (honest, it worked when I
tried) I will describe it. The first six or seven
minutes are taken up with a description of what this
fellow was attempting to do. You can easily skip to
about the 6:30 mark, and pick up where he and his
instructor/safety pilot are at the airplane getting
ready to fly. The flight was to be one full circuit,
and that’s all. But remember, this “pilot” had ZERO
hours, just time on his home flight simulator. The
instructor was to tell him nothing, just observe and be
there as a safety pilot.
Overall, the result was a
bit surprising. Amazingly, the sim pilot was quite
capable of flying solo in the 172. His takeoff was good
enough to get in the air before running off the left
side of the runway. The circuit was a bit wide and
long, but the best part was the approach and landing.
Although they flew on a calm morning, the video shows
what appears to be a turbulent flight. That’s just the
unpolished handling by someone new to the inside of an
airplane. But the landing/touchdown was superb!
Beginners luck? Perhaps, but his extensive time on the
simulator had prepared him very well.
My conclusion would have
to be: If a non-pilot with no actual flight instruction
can successfully solo in an airplane following time on
his home simulator only, then we ought to be brushing up
on it while our airplanes are down for an extended
If you’re interested in
the training environment and the advantages of
simulators overall, there are some very good reports
on-line at a site called
Once on that site, search “flight
simulators”. It’s very interesting, educational and