A simulator is a combination of software and hardware with the purpose to imitate its real world counterpart. an imitation is never perfect and we need to understand, and benefit from the differences between them.
Not a game
Most importantly, a simulator can only be as realistic as you treat it. Sure in FSX you can fly a 737 in a sustained inverted flight. That is impossible in the real world, but does that make the simulator unrealistic? If you treat your virtual aircraft the same way you would treat a real one, you will have a much better experience.
Not all simulator products are designed for all type of manoeuvres. The default aircraft in FSX for example, don’t spin very well, it is unrealistic. But there are simulators and add-ons available that DO simulate aerobatic behaviour correctly. Do your research or ask me for advice, for what you need for your specialist training.
Seat of the pants
In the early days of aviation, aeroplanes did not have many instruments and the pilot had to rely on his own senses to judge the state of the aircraft. Speed was measured by the wind in your face, engine RPM by listening to the tone of the engine, engine health by the smell of burning oil, and turn coordination, literally by feeling the forces of your ‘pants’; in an un-coordinated turn you would slide off your seat.
It is nearly impossible to correctly simulate those experiences, although professional simulators get really close by placing the simulator on a moving platform (full motion), 3d full surround sounds, force-feedback flight controls, smoke injectors, etc.
For the average home computer simulator this is a bridge too far, but the lack of all this can have benefits too, for example:
- On a multi-engine aeroplane, recognising an engine failure without being able to hear and feel which engine has failed;
- When flying in reduced visibility, and you cannot feel where if the aircraft is rolling or pitching;
This way you learn to properly use your instruments, which is exactly what you are supposed to do in such a situation.
Is it a rainy day with calm winds and with low cloud cover, and you need to practice your stalls and cross-wind landings? just set the weather to whatever you want!
How convenient, If you can’t remember what to do next? of you need to read the theory again, just pause the simulator for a while.
You can focus your attention to one aspect of flying without any distractions. When you are practicing landings for example, in the circuit you have to listen to ATC and comply with instructions, look out for other traffic, pay attention to the change in weather, fuel, remaining daylight hours. With a simulator you can just focus on those landings.
Flying a plane requires routine. You need to be able to fly the aircraft and manage it’s systems from memory, because you need your brain capacity for other things that vary with every flight, like the weather, traffic, passengers, etc. This can only be achieved by repeating the same thing over and over again.
If you haven’t flown in a while; at all; or on that specific type, rehearse your flight on the simulator. Besides restoring routine, you might also find flaws in the flight planning that are not always obvious if you just see them on paper.
When I meet my student for the day, my first question would always be (after good morning, would you like coffee!). What did you prepare for today. Often I hear the reply: I don’t know. An aeroplane is a very poor learning environment, therefore it is important to know exactly what you are going to do before you get airborne. Practice the next flying lesson before you go up for real and be prepared.
This brings us to this point. To let an aeroplane fly, it takes lift, thrust, and money. Flying is expensive. The last thing you want during your flying training is extra lessons because you need more practice. Do this practice in the simulator and use the actual flying lesson only to demonstrate what you already know.
Building a simulator can be expensive at first, but for a couple hundred Pounds/Euros/Dollars, you can build a basic pc simulator, which will save you allot of money later on.
In a flight simulator you can practice emergencies and the procedures better than in a real aircraft.
For example, in exercise 16 we will practice the forced landing. A flying lesson takes normally an hour, including take-off and landing. In the limited time available you may be able to repeat the exercise 3 times or so. Also you will have to recover at 500ft if you are outside the circuit or a low flying area. Lastly the engine didn’t really fail, it is ‘simulated’ by the instructor.
In a simulator you can actually fail the engine for real. You can also continue below 500ft to land somewhere in a field and you can repeat the exercise rapidly by resetting the simulation instead of climbing slowly to the starting altitude.
In a combat flight simulator you can even experience flight with structural damage. How does an aircraft fly if the vertical tail fin is shot off?
You can even practice ditching and belly landings. Not something I would like to experience for real, but it is good to be prepared if you ever need it.
A pilot is often quite limited in the variety of aircraft to fly.
Your flying club may only have a few different types of aeroplane, and even those may not all be available to you. More complex aircraft require a class- or type-rating and there is a limit in how many ratings you may hold at a time;
In the simulated world, you can fly anything and anywhere you like. Can you fly under the Eiffel tower? try it! Maybe you want to practice a high altitude take-off in hot weather, but lack the opportunity to travel to such place; or would you like to know how a Boeing 777 works? you can buy one for 30$ only!
As a private pilot, you will share the sky’s with airliners, helicopters, balloons and gliders. Knowing their speeds and performance limitations will give you a better understanding and the ability to predict their next move.
Turn back time
“Listen kid, back in the old day’s…”
Do you have a clue what that captain sitting next to you is talking about, when he tells you how he flew the Gooney bird on the beam of a radio-range? or how he navigated across the oceans in a 707 with only a Doppler navigation system? Why don’t you give it a try yourself, and the next time you will have something to talk about with the good man.
Use your imagination
For the best result, use your imagination to substitute where the simulator cannot go. When you pull a 60 degree turn, you see 2.0G on your indicator but you don’t feel anything, try to imagine the feeling of 2 G’s. It is not easy for everyone, but you can train your self and if you get better and you do that steep turn again, you might even start building tension in your leg muscles to prevent a black out.
Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein