Thanks to Wired News for their article discussing the increasing use of PC flight simulators in educating real-life pilots
. It references Microsoft's newest Flight Simulator 2004
, and mentions: "The Navy decided to see if using Flight Simulator would help... students. It found that trainees who used the program did better in their training, prompting the Navy to issue customized versions of Flight Simulator to all of its flight students."
There are still issues with using retail PC products: "Flight Simulator's limited field of view from the cockpit, and the resulting focus on the instruments that it encourages, can cause problems that need to be corrected in flight training"
, but overall, Microsoft's product is described as "...a highly effective tool to help student pilots learn how to fly."