5 Scenarios Every Pilot Must Practice With A Flight Simulator

Procedures To Chair-Fly On A Flight Simulator

“Chair Flying” - The act of sitting in a chair and drilling procedures as if you were flying a real airplane has long been recommended as a way to practice at home. This can be done inside the real airplane with the engine running, at home looking at a picture of the cockpit, or by far the best option which is in a realistic flight simulator.

Simulators allow us to regularly practice flying in dangerous or challenging situations without actual exposure to the risk. While nothing compares to real-world experience, flight simulation is a great tool to let you make the best of the time you get to train in the real world. We all have limited time and money for training, so it only makes sense to optimize it as much as possible to mitigate the risks of these dangerous but rare scenarios.

The Impossible - i.e. Emergencies

We’ve all heard of the impossible turn - attempting to fly back to the runway after experiencing an engine failure on takeoff at 1000ft AGL. Have you ever thought about the best way to tackle the impossible turn if the situation arises? Is it a slow turn in order to not lose lift or increase load factor? Or is it a quick turn in an attempt to close in on the distance from the runway before it’s too late? How will you handle your speeds and flaps, and how much of a troubleshoot can you get through before landing in say, 20 seconds? These are all great questions to have well thought out before ever finding yourself needing to do the “impossible.” 

With a simulator, you can not only drill for a moment that we can’t traditionally practice in the air, but you can also chair fly the classic engine out procedures and run through your ABC’s (Airspeed, best place to land, checklist, etc). Or any other emergency for that matter. There is a common saying in aviation, “When the engine turns on, we lose 30 IQ points'' and pilots that have gone through these experiences know, that is 100% the truth, student pilot or not. The only way to combat an emergency's information overload is to have your procedures down cold! A great military saying, “We don’t rise to the occasion, we fall back on our training”. Don’t think that you’ll be able to handle whatever gets thrown at you because you were great at it during your PPL training or whenever. We talk about hazardous attitudes for a reason, and those reasons are typically written in blood. The only way to ensure you’ll be able to handle an emergency is to be proficient, and chair flying your procedures on a flight simulator will not only save you the cost of fuel, it may help you make the most important landing of your life. So whether you're a seasoned pilot wanting to keep sharp on your skills, or a student pilot wanting to impress your instructor and shave lessons off of your training, we highly recommend grabbing a home flight simulator to chair fly on.

Approaches in IMC to Minimums

home flight sim

We all have reasons keeping us from the airport to stay at our best or even improve our skills in actual or simulated instrument conditions. Whether it’s money, time, or both, many pilots fall victim to losing instrument currency and proficiency to one or more of these things. So how great would it be if we could not only shoot a realistic approach in the comfort of our own home but could also train in more difficult scenarios than we’d be comfortable with in real life? For example, let’s say your personal minimums are the traditional 1,000ft AGL to start, but over time you’d like to lower that, especially at your home airport. Well, how do you do that safely? Or better yet, what if you could go practice the approach a few times at the airport you’re going to take your friends and family to next month? All these reasons make having an at-home flight simulator to stay instrument proficient a no-brainer. 

Practicing on your flight simulator with software like Pilot Edge to mimic ATC communications drastically increases the realism. This is very pertinent to be confident and comfortable when shooting an approach to a new airport. If you pair that with shooting that approach to minimums in IMC a few times on your sim, you’ll be an incredibly prepared pilot when it’s time for the real thing. Also, you could even practice in intense environments like at night time or when there is a heavy crosswind on the approach. Overall, drilling these approaches beyond your personal minimums is a great way to safely and confidently lower them over time.

The Autopilot

autopilot simulator

Have you ever wanted to try out the autopilot in the flight school or club plane, but you were too intimidated to press any buttons for fear of what the plane might do or that you might mess something up? So what do we traditionally do? Well, reading the AFM or quick reference guide that’s required to be located in the plane is a great place to start, but it’s a lot like reading about working out. We can read and watch videos all we want, but the only way to get better is to actually go to the gym. So that’s why having a realistic flight simulator with the exact replica of the autopilot you’d be using is invaluable. It will help you get the mistakes out in a low-risk environment without the fear of the airplane or your instructor freaking out. 

Also, autopilots can and do fail. There have been many accidents and incidents due to the auto-pilot becoming disconnected or non-functional due to pilot error or not. That said, it’s imperative to practice your autopilot becoming inoperative in different scenarios. That way, you can be ready to quickly determine in the real airplane if the AP has failed, what to do, and then proceed to hand fly it safely. We recommend you go practice your climbs, turns, descents, VFR with the autopilot, then do some AP coupled IFR approaches to get comfortable with it. Then once you are comfortable, begin incorporating failures into your training.

Pulling CAPS (If Flying A Cirrus)

The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) is designed to save lives and give Cirrus pilots and their passengers the ultimate backup in the worst-case scenario. CAPS is the ultimate backup for those rarest and most dangerous situations within the Cirrus line of general aviation light aircraft - The SR20, SR22, and the SF50. The whole-plane ballistic parachute recovery system was explicitly designed for Cirrus Aircraft and has saved more than 170 people and returned them to their families. 

A few situations you could find yourself in when it’s appropriate to pull CAPs are mid-air collision, a spin, loss of control, or engine failure. Per Cirrus's recommendation, CAPS needs about 8 seconds and 500-600 feet minimum to fully deploy, which is why Cirrus recommends 2,000 feet AGL. When it is used, the pilot will likely pull the CAPs handle, but this feature isn’t just for pilots - It gives the aircraft passengers another option should the pilot ever be incapacitated and can’t land the airplane. 

By anticipating the need to use the CAPS in an emergency and practicing it on a simulator, it will give you the confidence to deploy it should you need it. With a simple pull of the red T-handle, the rocket-propelled parachute system deploys and lowers the entire airplane. So you and your passengers can get back to the ground while still safely inside the protected environment of your Cirrus. 

Running the checklist

flight checklist

Lastly, being quick and proficient should be one of your training goals when running your checklist. I often see people being very slow with their checklist. While there is nothing technically wrong with that, it shouldn’t take 45 minutes to get your take-off clearance on a VFR day with no traffic. On the other hand, going too quickly and missing things is that pitfall where confidence isn’t matched with skill. You should be striving for the happy medium where it only takes you a matter of minutes to get in the air after the start, but you’ve meticulously gone through everything on the checklist and more.

Chair flying your checklist while actively role-playing as if you were in the real airplane is a great way to gain speed and muscle memory for your checklist items. It’s also great to dial in your flows in the cockpit per the do-verify method of running a checklist. I’d recommend getting a simulator set up as close as possible to what you’ll be flying regularly in the real world. That way, your flows will line up well from sim to airplane, and you get used to skipping things on the checklist because the item isn’t in your sim, but it's in the plane.

That is our top 5 recommendations to increase your proficiency when chair flying on a flight simulator. Let us know in the comments below how often you chair fly. Or, how many times your instructor has told you to do so! We hope this helps, and please let us know if you have any questions. We’re always happy to help!