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Co-Pilots May Sim Instead of Fly To Train 68

Posted by Zonk
from the welcome-to-the-world-of-tomorrow dept.
CyberLord Seven writes "The Washington Post has up an article on a proposed new standard that would allow co-pilots, and co-pilots only, to gain most of their flight experience through flight simulators rather than through actual flight on smaller planes." From the article: "The move is designed to allow foreign airlines, especially those in Asia and the Middle East that face shortages of pilots, to more quickly train and hire flight crews. The United States isn't expected to adopt the new rules anytime soon, but international pilots trained under the new standards will be allowed to fly into and out of the country. The change is generating some controversy. Safety experts and pilot groups question whether simulators -- which have long been hailed as an important training tool -- are good enough to replace critical early flight experience." It should be pointed out this isn't just Microsoft Flight Simulator they are playing. These are motion-controlled capsules that simulate the realities of an aircraft's movement.
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Co-Pilots May Sim Instead of Fly To Train

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  • Didn't the 9/11 hijackers get most of their experience on sims? Never figured out how to land, but then again they didin't seem to need it....
  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Monday December 18, 2006 @01:27PM (#17288372) Homepage
    There isn't a great deal in common between a Cesna and an A380. In the latter the computer translates your input into something that is safe for the plane - which it can do just as well with a virtual world and a virtual plane. There is no particular need to have great experience with small planes that, even if you could disconnect all of the fly by wire kit, handle in a matter so different that you might as well suggest that we train for driving big rigs on a bicycle.

    It's also worth pointing out that a lot of this technology has been risk reduced on military aircraft programs, and in general it has made things safer by giving pilots more realistic training before they even get into the cockpit of a high energy death machine. If I owned a multi-million dollar super jumbo I know I wouldn't feel too happy whenever a pilot sat at the controls for the first time, but I might be a little bit less concerned if they had already flown several hundred hours in a representative simulation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by stoolpigeon (454276) *
      i see your point but i can think of a couple things that might come into play.

      the first is, i would want a pilot with experience flying. period. i really don't care what he flew, but good, safe aviation involves a mindset that will not be attained sitting safely on the ground. it is easy to stay calm and collected when you are on the ground.

      the second is, is it that much cheaper to use a simulator than small craft? i'm not sure what the slowdown is there. unless maybe a single instructo
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sheetsda (230887)
        the second is, is it that much cheaper to use a simulator than small craft? i'm not sure what the slowdown is there. unless maybe a single instructor can watch over more than one student at a time in simulators.

        Where I rent planes the cost of the instructor's time is dwarfed by the cost of renting the plane. $35 per hour for the instructor, $110 per hour for a Cessna 172R. See also $100 Hamburger [wikipedia.org].

        • by MBGMorden (803437)
          You can find cheaper rates if you look around. I fly a Cessna 150 (fully IFR certified with Dual-VOR and GPS) for $60 per hour; instruction is an extra $25 per hour. Even that could be reduced further. A lot of the new S-LSA aircraft (which can be used for primary training) can run on 3-4 GPH of regular gasoline rather than AVGAS, and some are available brand new for under $60,000 (not a great expense for a an airline that could train hundreds of pilots on that plane).

          As to the original question though,
          • "You can't feel the wind bouncing you around"

            You can't feel it on a big Airbus or Boing either (not at least on a distinguishable manner from that on the simulator).

            "You can't feel the resistance in the stick to know that you must trim the aircraft"

            You can't feel it on a big Airbus or Boing either, unless using force-feedback in exactly the same manner a simulator would do.

            "You can't look around out of the windows and scan for traffic"

            You can hardly do it on a big Airbus or Boing either.

            "Overall, it just is
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Starker_Kull (896770)

              "You can't feel the wind bouncing you around" You can't feel it on a big Airbus or Boing either (not at least on a distinguishable manner from that on the simulator).

              This is quite untrue - a real wake encounter or a highly variable crosswind is completely different in the real thing than a simulator. Most simulators are limited by physics to a small fraction of a gee of acceleration, and because of the nature of how they are affixed to the ground, they simulate the sensation of yaw very badly.

              "You can't

      • by iocat (572367)
        I think there's a certain amount of hecticness and pressure that can't be simulated, but the simulators are pretty good for important stuff. I obviously didn't read TFA (I mean... it's slashdot, right?), but my guess is they wouldn't do ALL simulation, and would need to do some shakeout flights before they were flight qualified.
      • by Andy Dodd (701)
        "the second is, is it that much cheaper to use a simulator than small craft? i'm not sure what the slowdown is there. unless maybe a single instructor can watch over more than one student at a time in simulators. if the pros think this training is important, i would give that a lot of weight."

        The good simulators cost far more than a small craft, to the point where I believe many airlines rent sim time from larger airlines because they can't afford to buy their own sims.

        The sims are more expensive, but the t
        • "The good simulators cost far more than a small craft"

          But the operation costs are much much lower and you can "take out" much much more "flying" hours from a given simulator than from a real plane (a simulator can "fly" almost 24x7 while a Cessna is far from it).

          Of course your two points are *big* advantages too.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There isn't a great deal in common between a Cessna and an A380.

      It may appear to be that way on the surface, but there's a lot more in common between a C-172 and an A380 than there is between a big rig and a bicycle, as you put it. The four fundamental forces of flight don't change when you fly a different type of airplane. Nor does the relationship between pitch, power, airspeed, and vertical speed; the relationship between stall speed, loading, and bank; the proper procedures for communicating with ATC;

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There are many skills essential to flying that are better learned in a small single engine airplane than in a sim. A pilot "learns the ropes" by making real go/no-go decisions based on weather and equipment, dealing with air traffic control in busy airspace, negotiating clearances and routing with ATC, and in general learning how to be the "Pilot in Command".

      The pressure involved in doing it "for real" when you and a few passengers (possibly family members) are in the air can't be duplicated in a sim. Sim
      • by Bastian (66383)
        I don't believe this new rule would say that copilots don't need any flight experience. You'd still need to have a lot of real cockpit time. It's just that right now you need to have a whole lot of cockpit time, and that's prohibitively expensive even in a wealthy country like the USA. Allowing people to trade some of that for simulators may actually be an improvement - while you can learn all the basics in a single engine plane and that should certainly be done, spending more of your hours getting used
        • I don't believe this new rule would say that copilots don't need any flight experience. You'd still need to have a lot of real cockpit time. It's just that right now you need to have a whole lot of cockpit time, and that's prohibitively expensive even in a wealthy country like the USA. Allowing people to trade some of that for simulators may actually be an improvement - while you can learn all the basics in a single engine plane and that should certainly be done, spending more of your hours getting used to

    • by JoGlo (1000705)
      There are some things that you can do much better (and more safely) in an airline sim than you could on the real thing, such as:

      * Simulate in-air emergencies, and practice the measures required to get through them safely (engine out, lost wheels, wheels jammed, that sort of thing) so that if the pilot ever needs to address the emergency, he/she has the knowledge, and the instincts, to tackle it correctly

      * Simulate events such as loss of power on take off / aborted take off, without the risk to a real pla

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 18, 2006 @01:28PM (#17288392)

    It should be pointed out this isn't just Microsoft Flight Simulator they are playing.

    The advanced trainee also plays X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter.

    • by 7Prime (871679)
      Well, MFS isn't actually that bad, really, at least not for simple, rudimentary procedures. It's more the instruments that count anyway. Once you get into upper level commercial training, you're mostly reading displays only. In fact, quite a few simulators out there don't even have a "window", but simply instruments. Most of the actual control in a commercial plane is done through reading instruments, and as practice, many pilots prefer to train "in the dark". Flying isn't so much about "feel", as people th
      • by huckda (398277)
        I don't even know why this is "news"...
        back in 1989 you got credit for hours logged on simulators for private pilot licenses...
        who knows how long before that you were REQUIRED to learn in Sims for commercial pilots..
      • by GreatDrok (684119)
        "Well, MFS isn't actually that bad, really, at least not for simple, rudimentary procedures"

        Simple is right. It is OK for learning how things look and what to do but it isn't like flying. I know because I am learning to fly and the first time I tried to do a landing in MSFS I put the thing down perfectly. I'm not bad but nowhere near that good. At home I use Xplane which I find more realistic because it is a heck of a lot harder to do a good landing and it flies in a way which is pretty realistic. I al
    • by Fozzyuw (950608)
      It should be pointed out this isn't just Microsoft Flight Simulator they are playing.
      The advanced trainee also plays X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter.

      I hear that the pilots like to play Flight Sim and XvTie while flying internationally. Or was that just a dream I had?

  • i can't figure out how much harder it would be to get them time in smaller aircraft. they don't have to actually go out and practice in a large passenger jet now do they?
    • by cowscows (103644)
      While the basics of flight are generally the same across most planes, a small cessna is going to handle way differently than a 747, which handles much more differently than a F-15.

      The really great thing about simulators is that you can easily practice what to do when things go really wrong, without risking an actual aircraft and endangering people.

  • The training for high-speed train conductors is mostly in simulators as far as I know. And that seems to be alright (though I do think commercial pilots have a tougher job on their hands, skill-wise). Granted, the first couple of *actual* flights might cause more anxiety if the co-pilot hasn't had to fly a real plane until there are passengers on board, but I wouldn't expect anything more serious than that. They're not the only ones in the cockpit anyway.
    Though any trainee that breaks his Wiimote strap dur
    • by nczempin (822340)
      The training for high-speed train conductors is mostly in simulators as far as I know.

      Wow, the conductors really have a tough job, so obviously they need simulations before they can be let loose to check real passengers' tickets. They must be using some advanced AI techniques to get "aggravated customer" sim just right.
      • by Sciros (986030)
        Heh my bad thanks for pointing out that I used 'conductor' rather than 'driver.' I don't mind the sarcasm ^_^
  • by pilot-programmer (822406) on Monday December 18, 2006 @01:53PM (#17288812)
    The next time you are on an airline flight, think of this: The first time each of the pilots stepped into the cockpit of the type of jet you are in, they had already completed training for that type of aircraft in simulators.

    As long as a pilot has jet experience, their type rating training for other jets will be entirely done in simulators. And most of us agree that the real thing is easier to fly than a simulator.

    That being said, a large amount of experience in real world flying is still invaluable. It is true that on most airline flights the autopilot handles more than 90% of the flying, but pilots still need the experience learning weather and the atmosphere. Here in the US a pilot is required to have 1,500 hours of flight time before becoming eligible for their air transport pilot certificate, and I think that number is appropriate.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      It is true that on most airline flights the autopilot handles more than 90% of the flying, but pilots still need the experience learning weather and the atmosphere.
      90% of your training is for stuff that happens 1% of the time.

      Also, modern autopilots can pretty much take-off and land the plane in good weather. Pilots are kept in the loop because nobody wants a computer glitch to kill several hundred people.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Here in the US a pilot is required to have 1,500 hours of flight time

      1500 hours doing anything is nothing to sneeze at. To put that into perspective for games.slashdot readers, it's the same as typing /played in WoW and getting 62 days, 12 hours, 0 minutes.
  • by jfp51 (64421)
    I am not a professional pilot, but I frequent aviation boards and most everyone (except the accountants) are against this training. Just imagine an incapacited captain in a 747, with this co-pilot only trained in a sim having to do a no visibility, one engine out go around in a bad african airport. Long thread but worth reading for those interested at http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?t=2441 14 [pprune.org]
    • But doesn't that argue /for/ simulator training? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing they don't do live aircraft training of scenarios like that, whereas it's much easier to simulate such a situation.
      • by AlphaOne (209575)
        But doesn't that argue /for/ simulator training? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing they don't do live aircraft training of scenarios like that, whereas it's much easier to simulate such a situation.

        No. Although simulators have become very realistic in recent years, they still don't accurately model how an aircraft will behave in various situations. Simulators represent an idealistic model of a particular airframe, engine, and environment. In the real world, every aircraft behaves slightly differently, e
        • While you bring up a good point, it's irrelevant in this discussion as the pilot-in-command could be flying the aircraft type for the very first time if he just completed training and checking in a level D certified flight simulator. With the proper starting credentials (multi-engine cert, minimum number of flight hours, etc), you can step into a 747 with hundreds of passengers and fly left seat without ever having flown a real plane that size.

          The fidelity of simulators nowadays are excellent, especially t
          • by AlphaOne (209575)
            With the proper starting credentials (multi-engine cert, minimum number of flight hours, etc), you can step into a 747 with hundreds of passengers and fly left seat without ever having flown a real plane that size.

            I disagree.

            While you might think a 747 is similar enough to a CRJ that you could just go from one to the other, they're completely different aircraft with completely different systems, methodology, and handling characteristics.

            I've yet to meet a pilot who felt the simulator handled anything like t
            • With the proper starting credentials (multi-engine cert, minimum number of flight hours, etc), you can step into a 747 with hundreds of passengers and fly left seat without ever having flown a real plane that size.

              I disagree.


              That wasn't an opinion. It's official FAA policy.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Starker_Kull (896770)

            The fidelity of simulators nowadays are excellent, especially the common airliners that keep getting cranked out. Knowing the "feel" of the big jets isn't nearly as important these days as learning proper cockpit managment.

            And that is EXACTLY what simulators are the worst at doing. Proper cockpit management is impossible to get in a simulator, because something is always going wrong, because that's what you'll be tested on, and that's what you come to expect in a simulator. You go through engine failure

    • "Just imagine an incapacited captain in a 747, with this co-pilot only trained in a sim having to do a no visibility, one engine out go around in a bad african airport."

      Do you really mind it would be better a rooky co-pilot with only few hours of CAVOK flying in the real thing and no simulator?

      It would be a tough situation anyway, but I know for sure that under these circumnstances I'd prefer the simulator-trained guy 100 times out of 100.
      • by jskiff (746548)
        "Just imagine an incapacited captain in a 747, with this co-pilot only trained in a sim having to do a no visibility, one engine out go around in a bad african airport."

        I think you'd have a really tough time going around in a 747 with just one engine. 3 yes. Perhaps even 2 (if you hadn't extended the flaps all the way). But 1? No chance.

        At any rate, there's nothing wrong with training in the sims. It's not an exact replica of the real thing, but you can go through situations that you wouldn't do
  • I've used the sims back in my AF days. They're really not that bad and can give you a lot of experience in dealing with the kinds of things you won't usually experience, as well as helping you get used to the more mundane tasks involved with flying. The only major differences are that:
    1) Landings in a simulator are not really like real landings. They're close, but not exact. (This is because simulators are limited in the amount of force they can apply).
    2) Your sensation of Aircraft motion in certain flight
    • by EQ (28372)
      Very true - same goes for turns and such, where your body give you clues that you can take in some situations, and must ignore in others. I don't see how they can reduce the stick time a whole lot in favor of a sim. You can learn to fly th instruments in a sim, but not fly the plane. Especially true in bad situations and in interface situations (takeoff landing) as you point out.
  • by limber (545551) on Monday December 18, 2006 @01:58PM (#17288882) Homepage
    Ripley: How many drops is this for you, Lieutenant?
    Gorman: Thirty eight... simulated.
    Vasquez: How many *combat* drops?
    Gorman: Uh, two. Including this one.
    Drake: Shit.
    Hudson: Oh, man...
  • Better than real (Score:5, Insightful)

    by linuxwrangler (582055) on Monday December 18, 2006 @02:02PM (#17288982)
    I only fly small planes and gliders but I have several friends who are airline pilots/captains and read a lot on the subject. Many think that the simulator is actually better than the real thing for several reasons:

    1. Better emergency training. The simulator operator can throw all sorts of things at you that you would never risk in a real airplane like, say, critical engine flameout with full load, gusty crosswinds and high density-altitude. And even if you were willing to take such risks on a real plane, you would have to wait for the right circumstances and would still spend most of your time flying to get ready for the next exercise. In a sim, a push of the button and you're back at the end of the runway waiting for the next disaster to be hurled at you by the torturer, er, instructor.

    2. Emphasis on critical phases of flight. You can repeatedly train for tough instrument approaches, difficult holding patterns, etc. without wasting time boring holes in the sky.

    3. Fly anywhere. Flying international? How about training for the hellish approach to the Hong Kong airport (well, the old one anyway, should be better now) in the sim?

    I remember reading a story about a 747 crew grumbling about the treatment they received in the sim when the instructor threw a series of near-impossible scenarios at them. Shortly thereafter they had something similar to the above happen. Full load, hot day, hill off the departure end of the runway and the gusty crosswinds flamed an engine at rotation. Instantly training kicked in and the engineer threw the dump switches, pilot configured for the situation. They disappeared over the hill and the tower alerted rescue but then they reappeared as they came back for the emergency landing. They missed crashing on the hill by a few feet.

    While I think that training in a real aircraft should still be in the curriculum, I would personally step on a plane piloted by a crew with 1500 hours of rigorous sim time before I would get on one piloted by a crew who got the required hours teaching kids in a 152 and then took a type-rating course. I'm not suggesting that the latter are not competant - but the former will be better trained for airline operations.
  • My answer would be - No.

    Background: I've actually held a job where some training was done in simulators and some was OJT - and simulators, while valuable, simply aren't as good as experience in the real thing.
  • I remember hearing once that Lufthansa co-pilots are trained in this exact fashion. It's very logical. In fact you can train better in a sim than in real life as you can safely simulate more extreme conditions and practice situations that you just can't create on demand in a real airplane. Flying an airplane isn't that difficult under normal circumstances. But each aircraft has its own subtle nuances that can lead to pilots getting into very dangerous circumstances that are hard to prepare for in any ot
  • Commercial pilot training is changing drastically. Traditionally, pilots had to have considerable flying experience before moving into the commercial world. Most airline pilots used to be ex-military, and airlines wouldn't even consider training anyone with less than a thousand hours of flight time.

    Now there's "ab initio training" [aopa.org] - no previous flight experience required. This is still rare in the United States, which has a big pool of private and military pilots, but outside the US, it's becoming mor

    • by iogan (943605)

      Traditional flight training starts out with aircraft equipped with minimal instruments, and the new pilot is taught to get an intutive, "seat of the pants" sense of flight control. That's changing; today, many of the small trainers have full glass cockpits. Some people think this is bad. Others think it inevitable.

      I've flown both with the "minimal instruments" you mention and glass cockpits, and at least in my opinion the glass cockpits are a lot more minimal. Everything is in one place, all the information


  • Since the 1980's and the adevent of decent CGI Graphics (from companies like Evans & Sutherland) and very sophisticated 6 axis motion systems, bodies like the CAA and FAA have regarded hours in the Simulator as Flying Hours.

    Sometimes, I refer to proper flight sims as the ultimate games console.

    However there is no way that things like Microsoft Flight Simulator can reproduce the experiences of a real moving full size cockpit when you have a sudden decompression.

    IMHO, anything less would not get approved.
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday December 18, 2006 @02:51PM (#17289752) Journal
    Based on my own experience, and those of friends who would rather pay $$ for instrument flightsim training rather than $$$ for actual training (for getting your instrument rating, you're already allowed to use some flight sims for accredited training) flightsims are incredibly useful. Even MS Flightsim does a fantastic job of getting you used to using the equipment (*if* they have it simulated: this isn't going to teach you how to use a Garmin 530, frinstance.) You get a feel for technique and can get great at translating radio calls into establishing holding patterns and stuff like that. Even with tricky stuff, like flying ground-reference maneuvers with a strong crosswind, flightsims are an amazing help.

    And then you go to land in a real plane, having spent many hours in flightsims, and boy does it show. My instructor said I flew like a professional pilot with 500 hours of time until that last thirty seconds on final, when I flew like I'd just solo'ed. (Well, I *had*, basically.)

    The point being: if you use a training aid it could mask real-world inadequacy, and a falsely confident pilot rarely lives to figure out what went hideously awry.

    With all that said, if it's the copilot learning this way and the pilot's the PIC on final, or has quick access to the controls, it's probably a great idea, and it's sure way cheaper and way less risk on students (at any level) and their instructors.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday December 18, 2006 @03:07PM (#17289950) Homepage Journal
    1. Hot woohoo in the virtual cabin!
    2. Avoids those messy in-air collisions
    3. Who needs to land anyway, right FAA?
    4. Easier to cuss out the trainer
    5. HaXX0RZ can upgrade your Piper Cub for Gladiatorial Combat
    6. Saves on jet fuel that funds terrorism
    7. Prepares you for real-world situations like having Hot Coffee running on your Flight Simulator
    8. No distractions from Flight Attendants (see the BBC show ...)
    9. The food is better
    10. Electrons don't scream when they crash and burn.
  • It should be pointed out this isn't just Microsoft Flight Simulator they are playing. These are motion-controlled capsules that simulate the realities of an aircraft's movement.

    They're playing X-Plane! Seriously [x-plane.com] - you do need full-motion sim hardware, but the software is $50 OTS.

    Disclaimer, yes, I do own a copy.
  • Since all they do is program the autopilot anyways, who cares?

    I have very good friends who are airline pilots and they lament the move from stick and rudder to full autopilot. Airbus' are the worst offenders of this, but Boeing is catching up. And Co-Pilot is a dated term, BTW. Its First Officer now and, if the crew is using good Cockpit Resource Management, then the First Officer does a lot more than sit and twiddle their thumbs, like it was 30-40 years ago.

  • A submission of mine has been accepted. :)

    Thank you, Zonk!

    Ummm. Is there any money to be had?

  • My father is an instructor at FlightSafety International - one of the most well-respected flight training centers in the world - and teaches on Piston model Beech / Ratheon aircraft. Pilots in the jet programs are - and have been for years - trained in simulators only. The simulators are so realistic that a corporate jet license does not even require that the pilot have been in a jet, as long as the proper training was conducted in a simulator. I'm not talking about 747s or stuff like that, I am talking
  • A friend of mine (who will remain anonymous) works with the flight simulators at NASA Ames, the ones on the big hydraulic arms [nasa.gov], which are FAA certified for pilots to qualify as 747 flying time.

    I asked him if they were also certified to qualify for the Mile High Club (if the simulator's rock'n, don't come a knock'n). He said of course they were, but it was a good idea to turn off all the cameras, because otherwise everything you do in them [nasa.gov] is recorded [nasa.gov].

    They've got all kinds of programs for simulating a

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