Home Simulation: Part 1 Aspiring Aviator / VFR Pilot

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Home Simulation, when you can’t fly as much as you would like (part 1).
by Michael W. Wojcik

Like most people, time and budget limit the amount of hours I can normally fly in any given year. For me it’s typically less than a couple dozen. So how can one help their proficiency and stay in tune with the hobby they can’t get enough of? For more than 10 years now I have been a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

While this does not replace actual flight, I have found it to be engaging and accurate enough to use it as a tool to practice concepts and reinforce skills learned through the years. I will break it into two parts. First Aspiring Aviator / VFR pilot. Second IFR student / IFR Rated. A few caveats before I begin. I am not a flight instructor, so this is just personal experience. Second I am not a “gamer” as my son aptly calls himself.  I have dabbled with first person games such as Combat Flight Simulator 3, Mig Alley and Ace Combat and consider them just that. I am a very basic sim pilot, but it supports my interest so I am content. I specifically use Microsoft X Edition with Acceleration pack.


flight simulator visuals

Aspiring Aviator / VFR Pilot

If you are not currently working with a flight instructor, take some time in the Learning Center within the program. This will help you understand some of the concepts and principles of flight. I will break down how I use this simulator to benefit me.

Simple Local Flight 

I haven’t flown in a couple of months, but I’m still current. I reserve an aircraft and develop a local flight plan. Gather up the material I like to have available during a flight, then boot up the computer. I run my aircraft specific checklist. Now it’s time to fly! A few critical items you should pay particular attention to. Operating VFR; ninety-five percent of your time should be spent looking outside; cross check your altitude and heading (don’t forget the compass too). Again with a syllabus or checklist, practice the different airspeeds and configurations you would expect to fly during a lesson or checkout and what you need to do to get there. Think about your home airport, and what typical flight scenarios you have experienced. You can set up some wind and weather, traffic etc. I think this exceeds any kind of visualization exercise one could perform without it.

Cross Countries and Unfamiliar territory

Now we get to see where this home simulation stuff starts to shine. Again gather the material necessary you would for a cross-country, pick a place you have never been before. Plan your flight and then fly your plan. Headings, navigation aids and radio frequencies are very accurate. Depending on your software selections, visual checkpoints such as other airports, small cities, towns and bodies of water are also there. My experience has been my actual flight compared to my sim renditions mirror each other very closely.

simulator yoke and throttle quadrant

Some tips and tricks I recommend

Don’t fly the keyboard, invest in a joystick or yoke. If your desire is to actually fly, my opinion is this helps condition the appropriate response (i.e. muscle memory).

For your sim sessions get your hands on real aviation data (expired is okay) where available. Aircraft checklist, sectionals, charts, airport facility directories etc. It will cost nothing, and get you in tune with the material.

DON’T use the sim to actually flight plan.

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