In your career as a pilot, there will be many times where a concept related to flying escapes you. Whether it be navigation by VORs, figuring out a hold or just wishing you knew a little bit more about an airport than what the directory tells you. Being able to practice these skills is mandatory in becoming a proficient and safe pilot. A way to supplement your training while saving a bit is through use of a good flight sim.
During my training, I that I could really continue my practice and absorption of skills by utilizing MS Flight Simulator X and X-Plane. This opened my world up to being able to practice what I was being taught in ground school without the pesky chance of crashing my plane (for real)! Additionally, on the down times due to weather, I was able to still fly and practice without letting my mind drift and forgetting what I had spent so much learning.
When I got my wings, I continued to use the software to hone my skills and help reinforce seldom used skills. Having a good flight simulator doesn’t cost a lot and the benefits are great.
Most of the time these simulators are similar to the versions that run behind the expensive training rigs. However, they are offered to the public as well to increase market share. With that, a reputable flight sim, like X-Plane or MS Flight Simulator X will help you practice real-world scenarios while in the safety of your chair and saving a lot in 100LL.
Some of the benefits of owning a reputable flight simulator program include:
The ability to try out real-world aircraft and experience their unique flight dynamics
Perform a dry run of a proposed trip. I have noticed that using these simulators can be a great way to view the landscape from the sky and have a better idea of what to expect during the route.
Route planning and fuel needs
Assist in determining weight characteristics for the plane that you fly and what the plane would feel in certain overweight conditions (see note below!)
X-plane links to Foreflight which will act just as it would normally during a real flight by the application feeding ADS-B information to your phone or tablet
Flying in various weather conditions
Practice various crosswind landings
Practice navigation skills without getting into real-world trouble
Practice flying in IMC conditions
I have saved an enormous amount of money by grabbing both of these programs. While studying for my instrument test I could apply what I had learned in the chapter immediately. It helped me greatly in my understanding of instruments and how to fly in IMC conditions. Both applications offer a pretty good ATC interaction as well. This helps in being able to listen how the controller and you pilot interact during a flight.
As flight simulators become more advanced, it will allow pilots to become more proficient by being able to practice and hone their skills at home. It will be exciting to see what the future may hold.
NOTE: These applications are great and offer MANY positive enhancements to flying – HOWEVER you must understand their limitations. Just because you can command a 747 in the application doesn’t mean you should jump in one to take it for a test run. Alternatively, you should also perform ALL REAL WORLD calculations for your plane. Especially weight and balance. Do not use these applications as a calculation tool for your real-world flights. These simulators are just that, simulations. Real world flight dynamics command a great discipline and should not be treated lightly. Rely on your training and your common sense. Have fun and be safe out there because we are all in this together : )