Life as a Learn to Fly Student #4 | Flight simulation training

An LTF student tells us their thoughts on flight simulation training.

With the abundant amount of flight simulator programs for sale or available to download for free on the market, it is a given that any real aviation enthusiast will use such programs to simulate and experience what real flight is actually like. For the most part, and as a flight simulator enthusiast and student pilot, I think flight simulation training and programs do a relatively good job of portraying the numerous nuances of flying as well as real flight itself.

Do you think flight simulation has been a good addition to your flight training?

It can take a little while to get used to flight simulation, but I think once you do it is a great addition to flight training. Many amateur flight simulation hardware such as joysticks, yokes and rudder pedals have way too little travel and this means many nicely modelled flight simulator aircraft can feel sensitive, twitchy and generally out of whack. This is also the main reason many flight instructors still believe that flight simulators can have detrimental effects on a student’s performance.

However, as a student who has used a flight simulator before actual flight training, I have to say that flight simulation has done more good than harm to my flight training. One must just make sure the hardware gives enough good feedback when flying on flight simulator.

Which flight simulation programs do you use?

I currently use two main flight simulator programs, Microsoft Flight Simulator X and X-Plane 10, each has their own merits and shortfalls but I believe both programs are very good if you are looking for some reasonably realistic flight simulation.

What do you like about Flight Simulator X?

Flight Simulator X has a long history in the flight simulation community. In the past, Microsoft had a flight simulation division composed of real-world pilots as well as seasoned programmers and engineers. Their purpose was to develop one of the longest standing and most powerful flight simulator programs for sale. Since the termination of this flight simulator development team, the code has been sold to Dovetail Games and is distributed on Steam® for a reduced price compared to the original with DLC expansion packs to enhance general user experience.

Flight Simulator X is highly flexible and modular due to the nature of aircraft development. Simply put, each aircraft is fully modelled using a 3D modelling program and the flight dynamics are written and contained within coded files, which are written by the developers.

Coded files give programmers and developers more flexibly when simulating some of the aircraft’s systems and particular flying quirks as it allows for a nearly unlimited span of development. Such is evident in the company, A2A Simulations, with their impeccably modelled Cessna 172R trainer and many other training models. They are the pioneers of persistent modelling as well as wear and tear, as they have even modelled a full maintenance hangar and preflight which is not only a gimmick but required if you do not want to suffer from any catastrophic failure in flight.

On top of that, such simulation even mimics the stick force feedback you have on real aircraft. Although it does have obvious limitations, it does make the feedback and control inputs smoother, more intuitive and more realistic.

It should be noted that I am by no means endorsed by A2A Simulations to say such a message, as the simulation has obvious limitations due to the fact that it’s only a simulator. However, A2A Simulations and Flight Simulator X has helped me greatly by assisting and speeding up my training.

How much can I do on a flight simulator at home?

You can do a great deal on a simulator at home with a joystick, to improve or speed up the progress of your training. One can follow the syllabus of a typical Recreational Pilot Licence, starting from effects of controls as well as straight and level flight, to slowly study how controls affect an aircraft in flight.

If the correct model is chosen for the flight simulator, aerodynamic modelling shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It is important to select a model with correct modelling of aerodynamic properties such as torque and the slipstream effect as that will allow you to correctly make control inputs.

How do you practice radio calls?

With the advent of VATSIM, which is a network of virtual air traffic controllers and pilots, people who use flight simulators can even practice radio calls with actual “controllers” and learn about airspace rules and regulations. The most important thing about VATSIM is improving radio confidence and discipline, knowing that radio calls can be daunting at first. However, I must thank VATSIM for this, as the first time I keyed the mic and talked to ATC at Moorabbin Airport, it was nearly as smooth as silk and my radio calls are always hailed as “excellent.”

Is the flight simulator as good as flying a real aircraft?

Eventually, one will find that flying in real life is much easier than flying on the simulator due to the abundant amount of control feedback. You will have a direct link to the control surface, which means you can “feel” the air and how firm the controls are so you will know whether or not you’re slow or fast just by control feel alone. With control feedback on a real aircraft, you will find trimming to be much easier and it will actually allow for smoother flying despite possibly turbulent conditions.

But in a nutshell, it comes down to these four things. Have fun, fly safe, listen to your instructor and enjoy every minute you have in the aircraft!