Two Great Uses for Flight Simulators

Q&A with two RealSimGear Employees

At RealSimGear we are proud to have so many people passionate about flying and flight simulation on our team.  We asked two of our team members to tell us how they use flight simulation, or why they think flight simulation is beneficial. One is a CFII, so he gives his take on flight simulator use for flight training.  The other is a passionate real world and virtual pilot, who shares how he uses his sim for both business and pleasure.

Elijah - Certified Flight Instructor (Instrument Rated)

Q: Tell us about your real world flying experience.

A: I grew up in Ohio and loved flying.  I joined the Civil Air Patrol when I was 12, and then the Navy.  Upon leaving the Navy I started my flight training and progressed through private, instrument rated, commercial, CFI and most recently CFII.  I find it cool to see someone who has never flown before land a plane, and my first student will be soloing soon.  

My approach to flight training is to ensure the first flight someone takes is a warm up flight in a casual environment.  I like to talk about their previous experience and why they are learning (for a hobby or professional career), and let them have controls during the flight so they know if they like it.

Q: How do you see flight simulators being useful as part of real world flight training?

A: Flight sims are a great tool if they are used properly.  It is helpful to have a vision for your flight sim training and know what you want to learn.  Simulators are great for procedure training, especially if used with virtual air traffic control like Pilot Edge and Vatsim - talking to air traffic controllers, traffic avoidance - it is very similar to real world flying.  When you are in the clouds there is so much to do, being able to pause, reset, or take a break on a simulator is really good for instrument training.  Simulators are also really beneficial for polishing skills for instrument training.

Flight simulators are most useful once you have your private pilots licence and are going into instrument training.  You can work with an FAA certified flight instructor in the sky, and then a simulator on the ground.  I find instrument training is the sweet spot for a simulator.  You can practice the gaps in your knowledge with an instructor too, and your instructor can hit a button and reset your flight, and you can do it all again.  

Flight simulators are also useful for learning avionics and navigation, especially if you are flying the same plane with specific instruments at the private pilot level.

I can always tell which students have been using a simulator well - they come to lessons prepared; it separates the casual student from the serious student wanting to be a pilot.  I do recommend studying.  Read books, fly, use a simulator and practice.

Q: What is the hardest thing to teach your students?

A: I find the biggest knowledge gap is around landings.  Landings are complicated.  You need to talk on the radio, look outside the aircraft, gauge your height and decent rate, and scan your instruments.  For newer pilots, it is important to be safe and comfortable in the pattern, understand how to manage emergencies, how to land, and then solo.  Landings can be hard to learn using a standard flight simulator.

Lane - 757 Captain with Virtual United

Q: Tell me about your flight experience

A: The first time I flew was when I was 8 years old with grandfather.  He had a plane in Santa Monica. I did many fly-ins at the flight club with my Grandpa.  I didn't fly much after that until 2006 when I got my private pilots licence, but I was busy with work, life and kids.  I took it up again in 2019.  I now have my private pilots licence and instrument rating.

When I was doing my private pilots licence, a friend was doing his at the same time.  This friend had Microsoft Flight Simulator, with a joystick that twisted for rudder controls.  I started using flight simulation then, and have never stopped.  When you take it seriously enough, it is truly immersive.  

I used to keep my rudders and yoke in plastic bin, and pulled them out and plugged them in when everyone went to bed so I could fly.  When I got my instrument rating, I used reality XP but still had a simple simulator setup.  When I was doing instrument rating, I used the GNS530 within X-Plane and the GTN650 with Reality XP.  I found flight sim was critical for my training.  It helped me maintain course, heading and altitude, and allowed me to reach out and program waypoints and build muscle memory and rote memory.  I developed a deep level of knowledge of the instruments from being able to touch buttons, so when I was flying, I didn’t need to look at the instrument, I could just fly the airplane.  I didn’t really have any problem talking on the radio - I worked with the fire department and was on the radio all the time, but I found system management was not as simple, and having a simulator helped with that part of the training.

As well as real world flying, I also fly with a virtual airline.  I am a 757 Captain with Virtual United. I was initially hired as a first officer, and worked my way up.  I do virtual flights as often as I am able.  I usually fly once per month with Delta Virtual, and the rest with United Virtual.  I have a binder that has all the systems of the aircraft that I can refer to when I fly.  I can set failures and use procedures to solve issues, but I don’t do that much.  There is also plenty to watch on youtube if you are interested in virtual airlines.  

As far as real world flying goes, I use my simulator to practice holding patterns.  I use 3 dice, and roll them to randomize how I will do my holds.  The dice gives me a compass direction and whether it will be right or left hand turns at the holding fix.  I fly one per week using Pilot Edge Virtual Air Traffic Control - Pilot Edge is incredibly accurate.  I flew (in real life) from San Diego to Monterey to visit my daughter.  Before I did that I practiced at home on the sim with Pilot Edge, practiced frequency changes, to make sure I stayed ahead of the airplane.  I use my sim to grab as much situational awareness as I can, so if the wind is flying out of the west in Torrance, I know which instrument approach or arrival procedure I will be using, so I am organized.