Could A Simulator Teach You To Fly A Real Aircraft?

Intro

“Can this thing really teach me to fly?” Most simulator pilots at one point in time while sitting in their desktop cockpits have asked themselves this question. While it may sound like this could be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it actually gets quite complicated. From different simulators to different aircraft, there are many aspects to consider when answering this question. If you’ve been wondering this for yourself, you’ve come to the right place! Toady I’ll be covering whether or not a flight simulator can teach you to fly in the real world.

*disclaimer this post is a matter of opinion. Do not attempt to fly an aircraft without proper training*

Different Types Of Simulators

Before getting into the nitty gritty regarding what sims can and can’t do, we first have to establish one thing. Not all simulators are created equal. When someone says flight simulator what is the first thing that pops in your head? Is it a giant, sophisticated simulator to train airliner pilots? Or is it a yoke and throttle on your desktop? Don’t get me wrong, both of those things are definitely flight simulators. They are however, NOT the same thing. When it comes to the different types of flight sims there are many different categories with codes for each. I however like to narrow them down to two categories. Flight training simulators and recreational simulators. As their names imply, one simulator is used to train pilots on specific aircraft, and the other is used just for fun. For the purpose of this article I will only be focusing on recreational simulators such as X-Plane 11 and MSFS 2020. This is because flight training simulators answer our question in their name. Their entire purpose is to teach you to fly. But what about small desktop sims? Could you hop in the cockpit of a real life counterpart and fly with ease?

What A Simulator Can Teach You

Before we get into what flight simulators can’t do, let’s first go over what they can.  Surprisingly, desktop based simulators can actually teach you quite a lot of practical knowledge!

Instruments And Avionics:

Perhaps the best thing that simulators are good at teaching is the use of different instruments and avionics. This is because of their technical simplicity. With aircraft instruments/avionics, there is no flight model to worry about so the simulated aircraft systems are essentially the exact same thing you’d see in a real aircraft. For example, let’s say you teach yourself how to use the Garmin 1000 via X-Plane 11. If you can operate the g1000 (or really any avionics) in your simulator, you could just as easily do the same thing in real life. Not only does it teach you practical knowledge, but it’s free! You don’t have to worry about paying for multiple flights just to practice your use of avionics. This is precisely why I recommend studying avionics via a simulator. Not only does it teach you what you need to know, but it’s free and hands on.

Flight Planning:

Something else simulators are very good at teaching is making and executing flight plans. Since most modern sims model what is essentially the entire planet, simulators are very good for practicing making flight plans and putting them into action. I know from personal experience that flight planning is a very difficult subject for beginning pilots. That being said, they become easier with practice. Utilizing a simulator is a great way to do that!

Traffic Patterns:

Because of the technical nature of traffic patterns, simulators are a great way to learn how they work! You can pick your local airport, enter the pattern and do as many runs as you like! Granted this can’t really teach you how to fly a pattern in real life, but simulators can teach you how they work.

Checklists/Emergency procedures:

Something that is extremely important for all pilots to have down pat is their checklists. In aviation there is a checklist for everything. When I say everything I mean everything. Memorizing your checklists just by reading them is very tedious and quite frankly, bad practice. Using a simulator to practice running your checklists and emergency procedures is not only a great why to practice them, but to memorize them as well!

Technical Skills:

When it comes to simulators, specifically the desktop home sims, they are best suited for technical learning. Anything pertaining to information about an aircraft and its systems or about piloting in general is the league of desktop simulators. That being said, there are things that they can’t do.

What A Simulator Can’t Teach You

Feeling The Aircraft:

One of the most important skills that a pilot must have is the ability to feel their aircraft. What I mean by this is that they fly their plane based on what they physically feel the aircraft doing. If you’ve ever flown a plane you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is something a simulator just can not do. When piloting a plane, you are not just sitting a chair like you are when flying at your desk. You are constantly adjusting and making control inputs based on what you feel. This is something that must be taught in either a real aircraft, or a HIGHLY realistic moving simulator. Flying without feeling your plane is like driving without mirrors. You can do it, but it makes things a little more complicated.

Communications:

A large amount of a pilot’s job revolves around communicating with various entities such as tower, ground, or center control stations. I am yet to find a simulator that accurately simulates aviation communications. Again, communication skills are something that just can’t be taught with a sim. It takes real world practice and knowledge to be effective and simulators just can’t provide that.

Non-Technical Skills:

This is essentially the point I made previously but a little more broad. Any skill that involves the use of sensory organs to feel and sense your aircraft can not be taught with a simulator. Plain and simple. This is primarily why I don’t think a simulator pilot could fly a real aircraft without training. It’s just not the same.

Different Training Goals

Another thing to point out is differences in training goals between pilots. If you’re just wanting to practice the use of a certain avionics system, by all means use a simulator! They are amazing tools. If you are however wanting to learn to fly an aircraft in general, a simulator is not the way to go. The only way to learn how to fly an aircraft is to do it. There is nothing in the world that can replace real world experience  in an airplane. Like I said, simulators are an amazing tool for learning technical information, but for actually flying a plane a simulator is not the way to go. If you are looking to learn how to fly, a great place to start is ASA Prepware for private pilot. I used it in my training and it helped me tremendously. It can be found it the link below!

Conclusion

With all of that in mind, could a simulator teach you to fly a real aircraft? Yes and no.  Like I said, simulators are great way to practice technical skills and put them into action. Learning to actually fly an aircraft can only be taught with discipline and real world experience. This is why I believe that a simulator pilot could not fly an aircraft by just practicing in a simulator. There are just two many things that simulators can’t teach. All that to say, I hope you enjoyed! Feel free to share and comment! Fly safe 😉

Check out my last post on 6th generation fighters here!

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