CFI to CFI
What are they good for? Smart use of simulators
Simulators - what are they good for? If you ask a general aviation flight instructor this question the response is likely to be, "Not much!" If you query a professional airline, corporate, or military pilot with the same question, you'll probably hear, "They're great for playing 'you bet your job' every six months." An instrument-rated GA pilot would probably answer, "I don't know, I've never been in one."
Let's define what we mean by the term simulator. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm talking about an FAA-approved simulator or flight training device that has a good wrap-around visual system and the capability to simulate flight in various visual and instrument weather conditions. The Frasca 142 TruFlite FTD is a good example.
FAR 61.109 states that an applicant can log two and a half hours in an approved simulator toward the 40 total hours required for a private pilot certificate, or five hours of the 35 total hours required if the training is done in a Part 142-approved school. Assuming a student is going to complete his training in the minimum number of hours (40 or 35), the simulator hours are best used to meet the required three hours of flight training "on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments."
I believe you will get far more out of the sim training than you can get out of training under the hood in an airplane. For instance, in the sim an instructor can set up the weather conditions so the student starts out in good VMC and then flies into progressively worsening conditions. This scenario simulates the kind of situation that results in many fatal accidents - continued flight into IMC by VFR-only pilots. This type of training is very difficult, if not impossible, to realistically conduct in an airplane. In the simulator the student can experience what it's like to encounter this most lethal of aviation dragons in a completely safe environment. And you can have the student practice getting himself out of this situation.
Using a simulator for the minimum loggable time is fine, but it can be put to even more effective use when integrated into the entire private curriculum. Most students are averaging around 70 hours of total flight time by the time they take the private checkride. Since an applicant only needs to log 35 or 40 total hours for the private, the student typically gets at least 30 more hours of flying time than the minimum. If the student were to log 10 to 20 of those hours in a simulator rather than an aircraft, it is highly likely he will be ready for the checkride well before 70 hours total time. That's because training for certain procedures and skills can be done far more effectively in the simulator.
In an FTD configured for the training aircraft you are using (a Diamond DA20 or a Cirrus SR20), you can practice all the normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures in a much more effective manner than in the aircraft. I have instructed many students who waste a lot of airplane time in the traffic pattern locking in the proper airspeeds on the departure, crosswind, downwind, base, and final legs of the pattern. Primary students also spend a lot of time trying to remember when to put the flaps down, the carb heat on. Crosswinds, short-field takeoffs and landings, and engine failures on takeoff can also be trained in simulators to the student's benefit.
In addition to being superior learning tools, simulators can also save students a considerable amount of money. In our area, a training aircraft such as a Diamond DA20 typically costs about $165 per hour dual. A comparable simulator will cost approximately $135 per hour dual.
As attractive as the savings can be, in my opinion the most compelling reason to train in a simulator, rather than an aircraft, for a significant part of the training is the effectiveness and safety provided by the sim. My experience has made me a believer in sim training. You'll hear the same sentiment from other experienced professional pilots and instructors who have used simulators for training their students.
David Koch has been an airline, military, corporate, and general aviation pilot and instructor for more than 40 years. He is the author of the book False Security: The Real Story About Airline Safety.
Instrument students need sim time, too
FAR 61.65 says instrument rating applicants can log 20 hours in an approved simulator toward the 40 total hours required for the rating - the largest percentage of sim time the FAA allows in any pilot training course other than type ratings. There is a good reason for this - simulators and instrument flying were made for each other. In fact, the early Link simulators were designed to teach Army aviators to fly in the clouds.
Instrument training in a good simulator is vastly superior to learning in the aircraft. Students can spend all the time they need learning basic instrument flying skills while burning zero gallons per hour. Say goodbye to droning around while being vectored to final for practice approaches, too - in a sim it can happen instantly. Partial-panel flying in the simulator is far more realistic than in an aircraft. You can actually experience what happens when an attitude indicator fails, and how hard it is to fly if that really happens. Practicing partial-panel approaches and unusual-attitude recoveries in the sim will make students proficient in this life-saving skill. And learning the intricacies of GPS and more-advanced flight management systems such as the G1000 are absolutely best done in a good FTD.
By David Koch