Are flight simulators useful for learning how to fly?

James Olson has recently posted an interesting question on the Ask a Flight Instructor forum that is worth noting. He asked:

Are flight simulators of any help while learning to fly? I suspect that real live experience is the best, any input would be greatly appreciated.

Flight Instructor Paul commented that if you asked 10 different flight instructors, you would probably get 10 different answers. However, he noted that he used flight simulators during his instrument training and it helped him immensely as he found them to be a very valuable training aid. Then he added that as a flight instructor, he has found that flight simulators are not as helpful during primary training since student pilots who have used flight simulators heavily will tend to need more encouragement “to keep their eyeballs outside the cockpit where they should be during private pilot training.”

Meanwhile, pilot Matthew Hammer noted that while they are excellent for training procedures, flight simulators aren’t so great for teaching would-be pilots how to actually fly simply because you “don’t have the same visual references, you don’t experience any G-loads, and the control pressures are virtually never realistic.”

Hence, we want to ask you our readers what you think: Did you use a flight simulator when you learned how to fly? If so, do you believe that flight simulators are actually useful when learning how to fly? Moreover, when and how should they be used? We would also like to hear the opinion of pilots who learned to fly before there were flight simulators.

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8 Responses to Are flight simulators useful for learning how to fly?

  1. Chris Powell September 9, 2010 at 15:31 #

    "Flight simulator" could either refer to an approved PCATD at the flight school…or it could be X-Plane on one's home computer.

    I used virtually no simulation at all during my Private training for the reasons mentioned above — that it simply lacked the visceral feel and nature of the real plane. I did, however, lean heavily on the home simulator while working on my Instrument ticket. The sim offered a magnificent environment in which to develop the 'panel scan', practice maneuvers like holds and approaches, and reinforce actual knob-turning steps. It was invaluable in this regard.

    I found the process so helpful for Instrument training that I wrote a full blog post on getting the most out of the sim experience:

    http://cbpowell.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/dont-for

  2. Sean Thompson September 10, 2010 at 18:45 #

    I'm learning at the moment and have downloaded a Cessna 152 model for MS Flight Sim X.

    Both my instructors have said they think flight sim is good to do, and I also find it helps me make the most of my instructors time.

    I'm averaging 3 weeks between lessons, and in those 3 weeks I 'simulate' my previous lesson and what I'm going to be doing in the next lesson. I am sure it won't really affect my 'skill', but it certainly affects my confidence and saves time in the air as I've gained familiarity with the cockpit layout, maneuvers and procedures from dozens of 'free flying hours' on the ground.

  3. Shane Bertrand September 11, 2010 at 05:12 #

    At the school that I trained at we used Frasca flight training devices frequently throughout the syllabus. Was it helpful?

    As far as primary training is concerned it helps with flow/checklist useage and just getting the know the layout of the cockpit (if its a good sim)

    Throughout instrument I was in the sim more times than I was in the plane. This was pretty nice because it allowed the students to really pay attention to their scanning techniques as well as cockpit management in the sense that the sim controls were very sensitive so you really had trim it out perfectly if you wanted to stay within PTS. Other major advantage was that, in training with the G1000 we could easily do partial panel work and other failures that would be extremely difficult to simulate accurately in the airplane.

    Now from an instructor aspect, I don't really care for sims for the reason that 1. I don't get the hours… 2. For private students and commercial students its counterproductive to practice manuevers because the visual references are either non-existent (even with the best software) and the pitch attitudes and aerodynamic characteristics are always slightly off.

  4. Nicodemus March 22, 2011 at 18:36 #

    I agree with Sean in the sense that flight simulators are a great way of practicing your lessons, whether past of future. I would say that the skills that benefit the most from this practice are those that require going through checklists and procedures: holding a pattern, approaching a busy airport (minus all the ATC interactions, of course), flying out of an airport with special requirements (airspeed, height/distance and or obstacles).

    It is always better to

  5. jk's discussion April 5, 2011 at 11:27 #

    The most realistic flight simulation game in 2011

  6. swish July 23, 2011 at 19:50 #

    You can learn all the ATC on IVAO or Vatsim and how to fly STARS/SIDs and use your Garmin with FS X. You can also see why the impossible turn is really impossible, and practicing emergency procedures on FS is more realistic than practicing them in your head. You wont learn how to land the machine, but if you can, you know hotwto use VOR/GPS/COM.

  7. Prakash October 23, 2016 at 14:49 #

    VirtualPilot3D Experience The World’s MOST REALISTIC Flight Simulator.
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