Why The Flight Simulator Is Important To Developing A Student Pilot

– CLA Marketing Team

It’s no secret that student pilots often need an environment where the variables present work to create an environment where one can succeed. Ideally, students have clear skies, light wings, an encouraging instructor, and so on and so forth. A good environment ensures that one can learn the basics of flying and develop an understanding of what it takes to command an aircraft. Now it is necessary for these variables to be present in order to teach the basics of flying, to build the framework and building blocks for a career ahead as a pilot.

For those who continue on with a career as a pilot, understand that as you progress in your career, you develop the most valuable experience in a situation where you are not familiar, or not operating an aircraft under the variables described above. I’m speaking to low ceilings & visibility, gusty winds, precipitation, turbulence, etc. It is in these scenarios where a pilot’s training comes into play, and those skills that were developed in the flight simulator, otherwise known as “Instrument” hours, can be tremendously helpful in managing new challenging conditions.

Instrument Rating Alberta

Every license and rating incorporates some Instrument hour component that must be met:

  1. Private Pilot License: Requires 5 hours of instrument time of which a maximum of 3 hours may be instrument ground time (Flight Simulator).
  2. Night Rating: Requires 10 hours of  dual instrument training, of which 5 hours can be completed in the flight simulator. 5 of the instrument hours can be carried forward from your Private Pilot License training.
  3. Commercial Pilot License: 20 hours of instrument flight time. A maximum 10 hours of the 20 hours may be conducted on an approved aeroplane simulator or synthetic flight training device.
  4. Instrument Rating: Requires 40 hours of instrument time of which a maximum of 20 hours may be instrument ground time (Flight Simulator).

There are three main reasons why flight schools utilize the flight simulator. The first being to practice flying an aircraft with no visual representation of the outside horizon (Night). The second is to simulate flying in what’s known as Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). And, lastly, the third is to practice emergency procedures.

The Private Pilot License is designed to incorporate the fundamentals of flying under the hood, no visual representation of the horizon. The main focus is developing a sense what’s known as a “scan” into your flying. A scan can be defined at how you scan your instruments, in order to keep within guidelines of an exercise or flight. A common exercise, for example, is to turn left to a heading of 080 degrees and climb and maintain 4000 feet. With no visual horizon, your eyes are inside the cockpit, monitoring the instruments to ensure the goals are met. A common mistake with new pilots is fixating on one instrument. Fixating can result in the exercise going south fast, resulting in a panic to input the necessary corrections to get back to the metrics stated above.

From my personal experience, it is not uncommon to see students place the aircraft into an unwanted spiral dive, especially in the simulator, as a result of fixation and having trouble developing a sense for the scan. The flight simulator is the perfect place, if any, to do this, offering a great learning exercise for the student that displays the realities of flying by use of instruments. It is a place where you can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on, with no risk to safety being compromised for those involved. The scan is further developed and practiced through working on common maneuvers and exercises until a certain level of confidence attained. Of course this confidence is built throughout the Private Pilot License, Night Rating & Commercial Pilot License.

Practicing emergency procedures can seem repetitive and your instructor can sound like a broken record. However, much of flight training is not only developing a skill, it’s also risk mitigation and preparing yourself for various “what if” scenarios. The Flight Simulator is a great tool to develop and practice your emergency procedures. It is not only important for the PPL & CPL licenses, but also the Multi Engine Rating. Each checklist has memory items, items that must be completed by memory in order to mitigate a larger risk if the item is left too long or forgotten. More specifically, becoming confident with each procedure, and understanding where everything is, helps develop what is known as emergency flows throughout the cockpit. Where is the fuel transfer, fuel cutoff, nav circuit breaker, master avionics switch and so on and so forth? Knowing where each component of the emergency checklist is and what to do with them is pivotal, especially in an emergency situation.

Going back to the Multi Engine Rating, much of the rating is developing emergency flows, such as the procedure for an engine failure: “Control, power, drag, identity, verify, fire fix feather”. This may seem like drinking out of a fire hose, however practice makes perfect. Instead of practicing this up in the air where you can easily eat away at valuable instruction time, the simulator is the perfect place to practice. Even sitting in the sim on your own time and practicing will pay dividends in the end. The more you practice and develop confidence in the procedure the easier the progression towards that license or rating you’re working towards. Remember, as your career progresses, the simulator will never go away, it’s used to practice emergency procedures everyday at airlines around the world!

Lastly, utilization of the flight simulator for Instrument rating is a no brainer. The Instrument Rating allows pilots to fly in marginal weather, where VFR (visual flight rules) conditions cannot be met. This of course, needs practice. The basis of instrument flying is met in the PPL & CPL licensing requirements as described above, and the Instrument rating brings all those skills together to operate safely from departure to touchdown. This of course, requires practice. The sim is used to practice holds, all types of approaches, as well as incorporating emergency procedures into the exercises. Being comfortable with the various types of approaches is pivotal, as not all airports offer the same type. This includes NDB, ILS, Localizer & GPS (RNAV, LNAV, LPV) approaches. The simulator is a great tool to understanding how each approach works. Further, the Instrument rating flight test incorporates at least two approaches, therefore being confident with all types of approaches is important.

What has your experience been in the simulator? What did you find the sim helped out with the most? Feel free to comment below!