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Flight Sims As Effective Pilot Learning Tools 41

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."
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Flight Sims As Effective Pilot Learning Tools

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  • FS helped me (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hee Hee Hee ( 310695 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @02:33PM (#7282896)
    I have been through private pilot training, and have soloed (didn't get my license - got married instead - sheesh!). I used FS before I started my training, not intending to use it as a supplement, but just for fun. It really did help in getting me accustomed to the instruments that I would see, how the plane would respond to certain control inputs, etc. I can't see it being a complete replacement, but it is a good introductory learning tool.
  • X-Plane (Score:1, Redundant)

    by igabe ( 594295 )
    If they liked Microsoft's Flgiht Simulator, they should try out X-Plane:
  • Very true... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mattcelt ( 454751 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @02:39PM (#7282969)
    My father used Flight Sim for years to help him with his ILS (instrument landing system) approaches and instrument navigation. At times he even used the instrument panel to obscure the visual field entirely to simulate instrument-only conditions. As the post suggests, FS is limited in visual usefulness, but its physics and true-to-life recreation are more than sufficient for practicing for actual situations.
  • by Jebediah21 ( 145272 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @02:39PM (#7282973) Homepage Journal
    ... it's a terrorist training tool. Bad M$, bad.
  • Linux Please? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bluethundr ( 562578 ) * on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @02:47PM (#7283050) Homepage Journal

    The only flight sim I know that is free (as in beer) and penguin compatible is something called "FlightGear". [] It seems pretty cool, but I hear it's not quite up to X-Plane [] standards, which I believe to be neither free (as in beer) nor Linux friendly. I wonder what is available, besides FlightGear, for the open source crowd?
    • While I would normally shy away from this sort of thing, ... does anyone out there have any experience running the MS Flight Simulator under WINE? Although I suppose I could always pull out my trusty Commodore 64s and the attendant FlightSim package and Chuck Yeagers flight simulator (which was cool because you could take the SR-71 (?) practically into orbit-- a point at which I usually decided the best path was to see just how fast of a nosedive I could engineer)... but from what I understand Flight is one
      • Re:Linux Please? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Carnildo ( 712617 )
        Part of the reason Microsoft's flight simulator is so good is that they purchased it from SubLogic -- the guys who made your C64 flight simulator.

        And did you ever manage level flight in that SR-71?
  • Counter-Strike is an effective tool in training special forces. If so, the GIGN has a few recruits.
    • The marines have been using custom maps (of things like Embassies that are likely areas of operation since DOOM or DOOM II, to learn layouts and other stuff.
  • by orn ( 34773 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @03:03PM (#7283213)
    I'm a pilot and just recently got my instrument rating.

    When getting my private pilot license, I picked up a copy of MS Flight Sim 2000 and used it a bit. 2004 came out shortly after getting my rating.

    Learning to fly has a lot of facets to it. It's something that anyone can do, but it's a large quantity of knowledge that you have to get your mind around.

    One of the most important is learning the muscle motor responses necessary to control the plane: how does the plane react when I do X.

    To learn that, the best method is to fly real airplanes. But that's not enough. After flying, you need to go back in the privacy of your own brain and remember what you did. You need to go through the motions of landing (and other procedures) in your brain where you have the luxury of being able to stop time and analyze what's going on.

    This is called "armchair flying" and it is a very importat part of the process.

    The Flight Simulator is a great tool, but it doesn't replace arm chair flying. It does give you that ability to try various procedures and stuff that you can't do in a real airplane.

    But most of all, what I found was that it is the most help in learning instruments. Hence, its use for VFR flight (what your private pilot ticket gives you the right to do on your own) is minimal. But it does keep you thinking about things.

    On the otherhand, its use for learning to fly an instrument approach is fabulous! I've always found the computer controls to overcontrol the plane or to just not "have the right feel." But that's not a bad thing - it forces you to rely on the instruments which is exactly what you should be doing in IFR flight.

    So, large grain of salt in hand, flight simulators are great!
    • Another aspect of virtual or simulated training that it's important to think about is the shift from in vivo to in vitro responding. When people get into real-life situations, even if they have learned a skill to mastery, they can behave unexpectedly as a result of emotional responding in the moment.

      As a consequence, in military situations, for example, training over and above specific skill training on a machine is crucial in helping soldiers to control their mental and emotional responses in situation
  • by orn ( 34773 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @03:07PM (#7283246)
    One other thing that flight simulators can let you do with growing capability: you can design your own planes with some tools.

    In particular, X-Plane [] has a really cool interface that lets you build planes. It uses physical models to determine how your plane will fly, then you can jump in the simulator and give it a shot.

    Pretty neat.
  • by DuckDuckBOOM! ( 535473 ) * on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @03:08PM (#7283248)
    I used X-Plane during pilot training to work out some issues I had with landings and ground reference maneuvers, plus it's great for "under the hood" instrument practice, spins, high crosswind landings, emergency procedures, and in general all those situations you need to learn to deal with, but would rather not encounter in the real world. Plus, it's great for practicing vertical takeoffs & landings into an 80 mph headwind. :)
    Otoh, the graphics aren't really detailed enough for pilotage (navigating by ground landmarks), "seat of the pants" maneuvering is impossible, and control feel is, of course, completely different.
    (At the time, MS FS didn't offer a low-wing trainer (which makes more of a difference than you might think) so I didn't check it out. From what I've seen, though, the advantages / drawbacks would be pretty much the same with any sim out there.)
    So a sim is, imho, a useful supplement to real-world training, but in no way is it a substitute. I strongly doubt that any amount of time on a PC sim would've enabled Osama's minions to manuever a 7x7 precisely enough to do what they did.
    • I can't see how X-Plane helped on spins and landings. X-plane is great for procedures, instrument enroute and general flying work; but should not be used for training for spins, stalls or slow flight. X-plane utilizes flow algorithms that assume laminar air over the surface of the aircraft, including the airfoils. This means that it does not model the edges of the speed envelope.

      The problem with all PC simulators is the inability to teach real world landings. There is no cheap method to create the pr
      • Spins: My bad; should've read spin recovery procedure. And unusual attitude recovery in general. My school prohibited spin training (insurance + older aircraft, I think), & it turns out there's a big, big difference between memorizing "power to idle; yoke neutral; full opposite rudder", and doing it with the scenery whirling in your windscreen. X may not be accurately simulating the spin, but it sure looks like one, and the recovery procedure works. Get one of the hotter single-engines e.g. a P51 to
        • Another focus method for landing is to look at the 10 O'clock position. This is how I developed my landings. At full flare in a Cessna, you really should not see the end of the runway (unless the seat is set very high and you are 6'4".) It is a bit unnerving, but it really helped me judge distances and altitudes in those last fearful seconds before touchdown. I am based out of 15G, which has a tiny runway (2360'x37') so those last seconds can be fearful. :) Happy flying.
  • Flight training isn't cheap. A good flight sim can help you learn quite a bit about flying, especially when it comes to instruments. When you start flying, you're overloaded with all kinds of new things for your brain to deal with. Sims can help with this sensory overload by getting you familiar with these things so that you can spend more of your time and brainpower on actually flying.

    I think the most common complaint with sims is a tendency to form motor skill habits that relate to how a simulator flies
  • While this article (Score:2, Informative)

    by KMAPSRULE ( 639889 )
    is a bit biased to MS-FS and other alternatives arent really Mentioned, Simulators do and will increasingly play a major role in training Pilots- Commercial, military or private
    The main benefits arent so much handling the aircraft although a full motion sim is helpful for this as they are in learning the instrumentation of the aircraft and how to operate the aircraft...learning how to properly divide your attention amonst the myriad things going on in the cockpit.

    I work in the military flight simulator

  • Personal flight simulators as real-pilot training tools has been common since before I can remember.
    My university had a PC connected to a big-screen TV for the aero students, and I knew a doctor years ago who had a really nice simulator on his Mac that he used to help keep his certifications current.

  • I remember playing on a Apple IIGS. Long ago...

    Back on topic...

    It's a very realistic program. It actually takes you 15 minutes to climb up to such and such altitude.

    Nothing like the 'arcade' style flight games, like JetFighter. Just take up, full throttle, hit 30,000 feet in about 2 seconds....

  • by phouka ( 224269 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @04:00PM (#7283742)

    I'm a private pilot who flies in the upper Midwest (read: oftentimes challenging instrument flying).

    The problem with MSFS is that it doesn't really teach the judgment necessary to be a good pilot. Being a good pilot is more about judgment than about the actual 'flying' part: practically anyone can be taught be manipulate a plane; not everyone can learn the judgment necessary to do it safely.

    MSFS is best left out of primary flight training, where the most important goal is teaching judgment and an outside-the-cockpit focus.

    Once the student becomes more advanced and starts instrument training, however, MSFS can be invaluable. Much of instrument training is simply repetition: forcing yourself to adopt an appropriate instrument scan as habit and learning how to prioritize tasks. Neither of these critical abilities require that you actually be burning tons of money flying around the sky; thus, MSFS excels as a cost-effective way to learn them.

    Of the 65 hours or so it will take for most people (that's the national average in the U.S., even though the requirements are much lower) to obtain a PP-ASEL rating, I suspect you can really only knock 3-4 off by intelligent use of MSFS. It's worth noting that 3-4 hours still makes it cost-effective.

    On the other hand, I think you could cut your -IA (instrument) addition by 25 percent or more with an instructor who is confident and intelligent in his use of MSFS as a teaching tool.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Although it was glider flying... Let me tell you flight sims helped out a lot. I really found turning final to be quite a challenge. I always turned to far or too little and had to correct all the way down. Remember there's no going around again in a glider!!! Anyway I used MS Flight sim to help me get better at turning final and I eventually got it. If I had learned how to drive first the whole thing would've been a lot easier.
  • What joystick/control system out there is closest to the controls of an actual aircraft?
    • Depends on the aircraft, since there are different sets.

      Austin (the guy that does X-Plane) has some recommendations on this page [] (scroll down), and seems to prefer CH Products [] line of USB products, although (as he points out), anything will do.
    • As the last poster noted, CH is about the best bet for casual simming. I have the USB yoke & pedal set. Pedals are great. Yoke is a bit flimsy but adequate; throttle / mix / gear levers and a bunch of assignable toggle & hat switches. Reasonably easy to set up & calibrate. Excellent sensitivity & responsiveness.

      And the next [] step up [] more than quadruples the cost.

      As with so many other things in life, you get what you pay for.

  • by Tracy Reed ( 3563 ) <[gro.teloivartlu] [ta] [deert]> on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @05:28PM (#7284710) Homepage
    I am an instrument rated pilot with 550 hours and *almost* commercial rated (I've got more than twice the experience required, just need to sign up for the test) and I fly a Cessna 210 or a Cirrus several times a week.

    I encourage people NOT to use flight simulators to prepare for initial private pilot training. It is next to useless and teaches bad habits. The private pilot training is all about teaching you how to eyeball it. You fly in VFR (Visual Flight Rules). You barely need the instruments. It is all about looking out the window and learning about weather, judgement, physics, etc. PC based flight sims don't teach you any of this. The view (the most important part) is extremely limited even with todays modern graphics, tuning VOR's with the mouse is just not realistic, and you don't have any control forces or wind noise. Rudder is completely ignored in PC flightsims. You end up relying totally on the instruments without learning anything but how to read instruments which is a trivial skill taught new pilots in just a few minutes.

    Flying a PC with a cheap plastic joystick in your hands is nothing like flying a noisy, vibrating, machine where you have a huge view all around you and can feel the aerodynamic forces on the yoke in front of you and the G's on your butt and while trying to keep track of exactly where you are in relation to that class bravo airspace with controllers barking instructions at you on the radio. And this is just stuff the first time student pilot has to learn to deal with to say nothing of actual instrument flying in bad weather.

    Before I started flying I used to play with PC based flight sims and I liked to think it was something like the real thing but now that I can look back on it I realize I was fooling myself. I learned a *LOT* more about how to fly an airplane from radio control airplanes. Build the plane yourself, learn something about airframes, control surfaces, flutter, weight and balance, etc. Then actually fly it and learn something about preflighting, takeoffs and landings, airspeed/energy control, the need to be smooth on the controls, making timely corrections, spins and stalls, etc. Much more educational to the potential pilot.

    Of course as long as you use consider the PC flight sim as nothing more than a sophisticated game then it's pretty good. They have certainly put a lot of work into things like MS FS. I first used it on my Apple ][c way back when SubLogic produced it.

    All that being said, I live in San Diego and fly out of Montgomery Field and I am always looking for people to join me in the cockpit so if anyone wants to go up for a short little spin around town and have a go at flying the airplane (Yes, I will give you complete control of the plane if you are willing) just drop me a line at and check out my photo gallery of flying pics at:

    my flying photo gallery [].
    • Flying a PC with a cheap plastic joystick in your hands is nothing like flying a noisy, vibrating, machine where you have a huge view all around you....
      Bah. I've flown a C210 all over the U.S., Canada, and the Bahamas, and you know as well as I do that the view from a Centurion just plain sucks. MSFS probably simulates that just fine. :) :) :)


    • I wish you lived in the New York area... I love planes, am planning to get a private pilot license, but for now, the money has not materialized. I love small airports, and I've gotten to know some pilots, but no one has offered a flight yet. I'm always hoping though.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard