Answers for Pilots

Virtual reality

September 1, 2000

Training in a flight simulator

It's been raining for what seems like 40 days and 40 nights. You're midway through your flight training and you're just itching to put into practice all the information you've been learning in ground school, but you just can't take to the air in this weather. A short-term fix could be instruction on a flight simulator.

A visit to the AOPA Web site ( or a call to the AOPA aviation services team (800/872-2672) can provide you with all the information you need for information on flight simulator training (see "AOPA Web Resources," below).

"The simulator is a nice tool to use," said Craig Brown, an AOPA aviation technical specialist and an ATP and CFII. "My students like it, too. While you're not flying, you can get a comparable feel to situations that would arise in an airplane. Plus there are no distractions, no noise, no turbulence; a student can make the same mistakes in a simulator that they can make in an airplane, yet the consequences are obviously much less severe."

Flight simulators can be used for primary training and for instrument instruction. Primary student pilots can log the hours spent on a simulator, according to Federal Aviation Regulation 61.109, although those hours would not fulfill the three-hour required instrument training. Instrument students (FAR 61.65) can log up to 20 hours in a flight simulator ( A standard simulator is basically a mock-up of the aircraft's instrument panel. A personal computer-based aviation training device (PCATD) — with a yoke, rudder pedals, and other controls — is sophisticated and mirrors the airplane and conditions in which you are training.

Pilots can learn basic procedures and practice them as many times as needed — safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively — and then go to the aircraft with their instructor and put to use their skills in the actual environment. Think of an airplane as a full-task trainer and the simulator — or PCATD — as a part-task trainer. "Sooner or later a student gets confused or disoriented," said Brown. "In a simulator, you can stop the activity and sit and talk it over with the student before moving on."

Simulator training is cost-effective too. Renting a simulator usually costs between $15 and $20 an hour. With the instructor's fee, it is still less expensive than renting an airplane and paying for fuel. "An hour in the simulator is an hour of training," said Brown. "But an hour in the airplane is not really a full hour of flying because of checklists and taxi time."

And for those enamoured of video games, software for your home computer such as that offered by Microsoft can be an at-home way to keep you thinking of instrument flight training. "While home software is more of a game, anything that keeps you thinking about flying can be beneficial," said Brown.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA Online ( provides members with access to a wealth of information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The AOPA toll-free Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

Complete description of the personal computer-based aviation training device (PCATD) including simulator history, instructional tips, and manufacturers.

AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg looks at the merits of flight simulation instruction.

An introduction to personal computer-based training devices and their impact on general aviation and private pilot training also by Landsberg.

From AOPA Pilot Executive Editor Mike Collins, this "Future Flight" installment describes educational programs using personal computer-based aviation training devices.

"Flight Training Devices" is a compilation of information and articles on personal computer-based aviation training devices.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.