Monday, August 3, 2009

Fakin' It

I've been thinking a lot about simulators lately, both positive and negative thoughts.

It is clear that simulator training is the future of flight training. FlightSafety and Simuflite and others make convincing arguments that simulator training - this means full motion simulators - are both more effective and safer than airplane training.

My first simulator training was at Simuflite, a big facility in Texas that has more students at any given time than my high school (only Simulflite's lunch room is way better). One day my classmates and instructor and I were walking down a hallway that was decorated with pictures of "difficult" airports. I don't remember all of them, but I had been to most. Nobody else, the instructor included, had ever been to any of them. This did not strike me as a good sign.

But the training I got there was pretty good. At the end of two weeks I knew the airplane systems inside-out, and had been through a lot of "emergencies." They also had a large collection of broken airplane parts for us to examine. I found this very educational, and when I shattered a windshield at FL 280 I was less shocked than you might imagine, having played with a shattered windshield in the classroom. (To put your mind at ease, the windshield had two layers, and only one shattered.) I also got some good training at FlightSafety.

But lately I have been working with a new student who has spent a lot of time flying one of the better desktop simulators at his friend's house. His friend is not a flight instructor, and has been showing him the fun stuff. He is pretty good at reading the instruments, and knows how to bank and climb and descend. But when we put him into the air he got sick. Not just the first time, either. Not just the second time, come to think of it.

I told the friend that he had dug me a big hole: he takes the student out for joyrides, while I am the mean old instructor repeating the three key questions over and over.

  • What makes an airplane fly?

  • What makes an airplane turn?

  • What is a stall and how do you recover from one?

  • He is starting to give good answers to these.

    Despite this, I have been thinking of buying a desktop flight training device (the kind that the FAA certifies for training) and installing it in an RV (that is, a motor home, not a product of Van's Aircraft) and taking it around to local airports, or even to people's houses, to offer instrument training. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don't think so; I imagine mostly working with private pilots, who know that the airplane actually moves. Most of the training would be instrument training, including the required hood time for private pilots. So I'm not digging anyone a hole. The idea is to prevent a smoking hole. (Also, since I have a history of medical problems, I would still be able to help people master instrument flying even if my medical certificate takes a leave of absence.)

    So what I would be doing would combine the best of the simulator schools - instrument procedures, regulations, systems - and the best of actual flying experience from flying into places like Thermopolis, Telluride, Fallbrook, Lander, and Cabin Creek. Combining that with actual experience flying into San Francisco, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and the like might make for a very effective simulator experience.



    At August 5, 2009 at 6:44 AM , Blogger africanbushpilot said...

    I do like the idea of a mobile simulator that can do house calls.

    I have put a link to your blog from mine


    At August 5, 2009 at 8:21 AM , Blogger Sarah said...

    Nothing wrong with simulators, just with some of the ways they're used. Like you ( I surmise ), I have misgivings about primary or pre-primary simulator use. I suspect you could pick up a lot of bad habits.

    Sims are wonderful for Instrument training.. you can pause, back up, look at your track, move the "airplane", repeat approaches much more quickly than in reality. And you'll need to do all of the above...
    I found the sim. much harder to fly than the real airplane. Twitchy in pitch, especially.

    At September 30, 2009 at 4:17 AM , Blogger Dave Starr said...

    Years ago I was a simulator technician for the USAF. All our students were line pilots on annual recurrent training and first officers upgrading to aircraft commander (Captain) ... we did no low-time students.

    Our training was 5 days and it was all line oriented ... one day would be aiming trainees at mountains in the Philippines and then simulating radio failure, another day would be giving them clearances at dangerously low altitudes in the Brooks Range in Alaska with failed anti-icing, etc.

    I think the crews learned a lot about the day-to-day 'traps' in flying the line. All the obligatory engine failures right after V1 and the other grunt, groan and cuss scenarios were covered as well, but those exercises were all done within the context of known trouble areas in flying the line. We even had tapes of ATC at foreign locations playing in the background on the comm radios to make it seem 'more real'.

    A simulator is not a real airplane, but I really think they could be used in more realistic ways.

    Not long ago I described this syllabus to a regional airline FO who felt it sounded stupid, his sim time was V1 power cuts and other artificial failures piled on until task saturation occurred.

    "Real pilots sweat, they have no time for all the artsy-fartsy thinking" was a message that came trough clearly to me.

    Well, he's a line pilot and I'm not, but I really think the simulator can be used as more of a decision making trainer than strictly a sweat box.

    Incidentally, I've just been on a marathon of reading every post of yours. I was sent here yesterday courtesy of John Ewing (Aviation Mentor) and I have been informed, entertained and fascinated. Keep writing and the very best of luck getting that medical issue back in line.


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