Are there limits to simulator training?

About a month ago, both Paul Bertorelli (The Limits of Simulator Training)and Mary Grady (Report: Simulator Training Flawed) pointed out an article in USA Today where it was noted that problems stemming from simulator training had been cited as contributing factors in airline accidents that also caused more than half of the 522 airline accident fatalities over the last decade. Apparently, the NTSB cited deficient crosswind simulator training as a factor in the December 2008 accident in Denver when a Continental 737 ran off the runway. In addition, insufficient simulator training for icing was also cited as a factor in last year’s fatal Colgan Air crash while simulator exercises giving pilots a false sense of how the rudder would respond to inputs was cited as a factor in the November 2001 crash of an American Airlines A300 in which 265 people died.

However and in his post, Paul questioned the findings by asking:

Could this really be? To me, it just doesn’t pass the smell test. Further digging into the story revealed that while the NTSB cited simulator training shortcomings as a factor in the Denver crash, it seemed to concede a certain far-outishness to the finding. It gets down to this: To what degree can you expect to train pilots in weird abnormals? Where do you draw the line and simply decide to take your chances?

He further added that:

In any case, shouldn’t a pilot bring to the table certain basic skills—like knowing a stall when he sees one or noticing that his knuckles are being rapped by a stick shaker? Sometimes there’s just not much you can do about ten-to-the-ninth accidents and I’m wondering if these two don’t qualify. Which is another way of saying USA Today has again overstated the case and I feel for the hapless reading public unversed in the finer points of aviation risk.

Paul also noted his experience in a navy flight simulator when he ended up taking off into a ditch due to a navy tradition of setting a 100-knot crosswind for all first takeoffs in their flight simulator. He then pointed out that even when he knew the 100-knot crosswind was coming, he still could not keep the Tomcat on the runway (but the navy already has a solution for this: They simply turn the ship into the wind).

Hence, we want to hear what you our readers think – especially anyone who has ever had flight simulator training: Are there reasonable limits to simulator flight training? Moreover, what are your thoughts about simulator flight training for general aviation pilots and how extensive should such (if any) training be? Let us know your thoughts.

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2 Responses to Are there limits to simulator training?

  1. Robin October 7, 2010 at 12:54 #

    As someone who knows nothing about flying beyond the basic physics of an aerofoil I have always wondered about tail and head winds when taking off… Is it proportionately harder/easier to take off in one compared to completely still conditions? Are there practical limits on how strong a head wind you'd want to take off in?

    I guess my question is vaguely related to yours about the limits for simulator training in that there are only so many situations where a simulator is accurate. When it comes to extreme conditions materials, systems and, probably most importantly, people can behave in unexpected ways.

    My (completely unqualified) opinion on the 'value' of simulations of these type of conditions is that it has to be better to have some idea of how your aircraft will behave than literally flying by the seat of your pants. Simulation will never beat the real thing, but how many planes/pilots would you lose if instead of grounding flights in extreme weather we sent them up to train in deadly conditions?

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