Flight Training Devices and Desktop Simulators

Simulators

Table of Contents

Importance to Members

Overview

Technical Information

Additional Resources

From the AOPA Archive

Table of Contents

Importance to Members

Simulators, flight training devices, PCATDs, and personal computer programs are cost effective tools for learning how an aircraft responds or handles in different scenarios, and for learning the correct procedures for flows, checklists, and memory items. It is important when first learning maneuvers and procedures that a flight instructor, or someone with experience, accompanies you while you're trying to learn. This will help prevent learning procedures incorrectly and assist in avoiding a negative transfer of information when you fly the actual aircraft.

Currently, a private pilot applicant may use 2.5 hours of training in a flight simulator, FTD, B-ATD, or A-ATD. An applicant at a Part 142-approved ground school may use up to five hours of training in a flight simulator or an FTD toward the hourly requirements for the private pilot certificate (14 CFR 61.109[k]).
An instrument rating applicant may use up to 20 hours of training in a flight simulator, FTD, and A-ATD. Only 10 hours may be used if training is done in a PCATD or a B-ATD. Up to 30 hours of training in a flight simulator or FTD may be used if acquired at a Part 142-approved ground school (14 CFR 61.65[e] and AC 61-126).

Overview

There are four major types of ground-based aviation training devices that may be used not only for flight training, but for proficiency as well.

  • A flight simulator, as defined by 14 CFR 61.1(b)(5), is a full-size replica of a specific aircraft including the hardware and software necessary to represent the aircraft in ground and flight operations. It requires both motion and a visual system.
  • A flight training device (FTD), as defined by 14 CFR 61.1(b)(7), is a full-size replica of the instruments, equipment, panels, and controls of an aircraft, or set of aircraft, in an open flight deck area or in an enclosed cockpit, including the hardware and software for the systems installed, that is necessary to simulate the aircraft in ground and flight operations. It does not require motion or a visual system.
  • A personal computer-based aviation training device (PCATD), as defined by AC 61-126, is an FAA-approved, computer-based program that can satisfy a portion of the flight training required for an instrument rating under 14 CFR 61.65(e). With advances in PCATD technology, there are now basic (B-ATD) and advanced (A-ATD) aviation training devices that satisfy additional training and currency requirements required by 14 CFR Part 61.
  • Personal computer programs, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator X, are also great training tools for simulation and proficiency. Though the time does not count toward any certificate or rating, it can be a fun and inexpensive way to practice and stay proficient.

Technical Information

Flight Training

SimSimulators, flight training devices, PCATDs, and personal computer programs are great tools for learning how an aircraft responds or handles in different scenarios, and for learning the correct procedures for flows, checklists, and memory items. It is important when first learning maneuvers and procedures that a flight instructor, or someone with experience, accompanies you while you're trying to learn. This will help prevent learning procedures incorrectly and assist in avoiding a negative transfer of information when you fly the actual aircraft.

Having a lesson plan that outlines exactly what is to be covered for each training session is important and helpful in ensuring all required areas are covered. The lessons learned in the aviation training device need to reinforce the techniques learned in the real aircraft, not conflict with them. Since an aviation training device can be paused, certain portions of a maneuver can be explained in greater detail, and questions from the student can be answered at that time instead of during a post-flight briefing. This will make the answer more meaningful because the answer can be demonstrated more than once with direct feedback about why it happens.

Advantages

  • Money: One of the most obvious advantages of using a Flight Training Device (FTD) in lieu of an aircraft is the savings.
  • Logging: Another advantage is logging time toward your ratings. Not only can you hone your skills alone, but if you are on an FAA-approved FTD with an instructor present, you can log a certain amount of time toward your ratings.
  • Checkride: Student pilots who use flight simulators before beginning their lessons typically reach their checkride faster. Spending fewer hours getting your certificate will result in a significant savings.

Disadvantages

  • Fixation: A lot of pilots who consistently use simulators are subject to negative habits. One of the most common is instrument fixation, which is when a pilot stares at the instruments. This is a problem in actual flight, because (for the VFR pilot) the majority of your time should be spent looking outside the cockpit.
  • Instructor: An instructor is required to log time on an FAA-approved FTD, and it may be challenging to schedule a CFI’s time.
  • Simulators: Simulators that are qualified for logging time are typically more expensive to purchase and maintain than non-approved programs. As a result pilots often find a flight school with an FAA-approved FTD they can use if they plan on logging time.

Logging Time

Pilots can use an aviation training device at any time during their training, both on their own and with an instructor. However, to be counted toward any required times for a certificate, rating, or to maintain currency, an instructor must be present, and an entry in the student's logbook must be made. There are limitations on how many hours may be counted, so please check the current version of FAR Part 61 for your certificate level. Because the PCATD, B-ATD, and A-ATD are not yet included within Part 61, you will want to check the FAA certification of the training device being used to ensure you only use the appropriate amount of time toward the certificate or rating. If a pilot maximized the use of FAA-approved training devices while earning each of the certificates from private pilot to airline transport pilot (ATP), he or she could log 97.5 hours. Let's look at what you can log for each certificate.

Currently, a private pilot applicant may use 2.5 hours of training in a flight simulator, FTD, B-ATD, or A-ATD. An applicant at a Part 142-approved ground school may use up to five hours of training in a flight simulator or an FTD toward the hourly requirements for the private pilot certificate (14 CFR 61.109[k]).

An instrument rating applicant may use up to 20 hours of training in a flight simulator, FTD, and A-ATD. Only 10 hours may be used if training is done in a PCATD or a B-ATD. Up to 30 hours of training in a flight simulator or FTD may be used if acquired at a Part 142-approved ground school (14 CFR 61.65[e] and AC 61-126).

The number of hours commercial pilot applicants can credit toward their certificate depends upon the type of aircraft being flown. Airplane or powered lift rating applicants may credit a maximum of 50 hours toward their total time if the training is completed in a flight simulator, FTD, or A-ATD. If the training is completed at a Part 142 ground school, 100 hours may be credited if training is conducted in a simulator or FTD. A helicopter rating applicant may credit 25 hours toward the commercial certificate and 50 hours if flown at a Part 142-approved ground school (14 CFR 61.129[i]).

ATP applicants can credit up to 25 hours of simulated instrument time in a flight simulator, FTD, or A-ATD toward their certificate, 50 hours if at an approved Part 142 training center (61.159[a]).

The B-ATD and A-ATD can both be used for recency of flight experience. The A-ATD can also be used for a portion or all of the instrument proficiency check and a portion or the entire instrument practical test, depending on FAA certification.

Sources/Products

There are numerous vendors that sell ground-based aviation training devices. If you are unable to test fly the system, verify that there is a return policy before you buy it. Except for the personal computer programs, all ground-training devices require FAA evaluation and approval. Many of the systems will have similar capabilities, so personal opinion about how easily one works over another may be a main consideration after cost. If purchasing a unit for a flight school, consult with the flight instructors and students who will be using it most often; if they aren't comfortable with it, they will probably not use it.

Even if your school cannot afford a simulator, FTD, or PCATD, do not overlook the training capabilities of personal computer programs, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator. It can be used to demonstrate many of the flight maneuvers in the Practical Test Standards. To realize the potential of any of these tools, an instructor needs to be supervising to be sure that the correct methods are learned and practiced. Anyone can be flying the aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator in just a few minutes without assistance, but those self-taught skills can invite trouble when flying an actual aircraft.

All of the products that are in the marketplace should be used in addition to a flight-training program, not as a substitute. With a little forethought, integrating a ground-based aviation training device into a training syllabus can be done in a way to maximize the lessons learned with a minimum of expense. For students who are trying to expand into a new career in aviation in a short time, this can be a great incentive to join your program.

How do I get one?

AOPA regularly receives calls asking how to find the latest information on simulators, FTDs, and PCATDs. Included below is a list of current manufacturers of these products. For further information on the certification of these devices, go to the  FAA National Simulator Program for qualification and Advisory Circular listings.

Currently Approved Manufacturers

Aviation Supplies & Academics, Inc. (ASA)
Newcastle, WA
425/235-1500; 800/272-2359
www.asa2fly.com

  • Personal computer flight program
  • PCATD
  • B-ATD

Elite Simulation Solutions
Orlando, FL
407/277-7700; 800/557-7590
www.flyelite.com

  • PCATD
  • B-ATD
  • A-ATD

Frasca International
Urbana, IL
217/344-9207
www.frasca.com

  • FTD
  • Simulator
  • Custom design
  • A-ATD

Microsoft
www.microsoft.com/games/flightsimulator

  • Personal computer flight program

Precision Flight Controls, Inc.
Mather, CA
916/414-1310; 888/638-1310
www.flypfc.com

  • PCATD
  • B-ATD
  • A-ATD

Redbird Flight Simulators
8313 W Highway 71, Suite 300
Austin, TX 78735
(512) 301-0718
http://www.redbirdflightsimulations.com/

  • A-ATD
  • Wrap around
  • Motion-based

Additional Resources

License to learn: That's how real it feels. Flight training and simulators
At this year’s AirVenture, I had a chance to spend a little time with Jerry Gregoire, chairman of Redbird Flight Simulators.
AOPA Pilot, November 2012

Redbird announces integrated simulator training tool
Since the company’s inception, Redbird Flight Simulations has striven to provide innovative simulator solutions to the lower end of general aviation. Now the company is taking the technology to the next level by integrating full training scenarios in partnership with King Schools.
Sun 'n Fun News, April 2011

New system helps students learn communications
Ask new student pilots their biggest fear, and it usually isn’t landings, steep turns, or stalls. It’s talking on the radio. To help students master radio techniques, Redbird Flight Simulators has introduced the Parrot project, an artificial-intelligence-driven radio communications training system. The system connects to Redbird flight simulators and infuses ATC-style communications scenarios into every phase of flight.
Flight Training, July 2010

Sim-ple Solution
Can low-cost, full-motion simulation revive general aviation?
AOPA Pilot, September 2010

Simulation Nation
Flight simulator training for general aviation
Flight Training, January 2009

A New Approach
Arizona school embraces simulation
Flight Training, October 2008

Putting on Your Game Face
Desktop games in training
AOPA Pilot, November 2005

Instructor Report: Readers on FTDs: A Good Training Tool, but Watch that Panel Fixation
Flight Training, September 2002

Answers for Pilots: IFR currency
Stay proficient and fly safe
AOPA Pilot, June 2002

From The AOPA Archives

Thinking Inside the Box: Meet the Next Generation of PC Simulators
Flight Training, April 2002

Instructor Report: Silicon Fliers: Ground Trainers that Could Make 40 Hours a Possibility
Flight Training, April 2002

The Virtual Blue Yonder: Picking the Right Desktop Sim for Instrument Training or Proficiency
Flight Training, April 2002