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Questions for licensed GA pilots

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Due to my age and health issues, I'll never qualify for a PPL.  I've often wondered though to what degree a simulation flight compares to an actual one.   


The obvious differences are the physical senses are compromised in simming.  Hearing would be similar, but the senses of touch, smell and "feeling" the effect of wind on the plane are all absent in simulation.  


So, if you fly from point A to B in real life, that experience would be 100% true.  Now, doing the same flight on your computer lowers that experience to a an unknown quantity.  That brings me to my questions.  



1)  What percentage of an actual flight do you experience in your simming sessions?  I expect answers could be anywhere from 20% to 90%, but I'm just looking for your general perspective.


2)  Do you ever find simming as rewarding as actual flying, or is it always just a next best option?


Thanks in advance for any replies.    

Curt Branch

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1) less than 5%, only time ive ever simulated a flight was my cross channel check to L2K

2) subjective


real flying is rewarding because you cant hit pause

fsim is rewarding because you can do stuff you cant in real life

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As far as learning procedures and avionics I would say around 75% to 90%, great way to learn some of the basics. But for the acutal feel of flying I would only give that about 30% or less. Simming is rewarding and is a good supplement to flying, but nothing like the real thing!




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1)  Hard to put a single quantifier on this, but I'd generally agree with Martin - the better GA aircraft out there can be great for learning and practicing procedures, becoming comfortable with avionics and so on.  But the feel is just not there.  Don't take that as criticism of our sims, it's just a fact.  Even GA sims certified for training don't fill the bill in this regard.


2) Love simming, and as I'm not actively flying right now it's the closest I can come these days, and it allows me to scratch the flying itch a bit (for a LOT less money).  But good as it is, it doesn't really come close to the real thing, which is a wonderful amalgamation of sight, sound, smell and visceral experience that we're still quite a ways from recreating in a home environment.



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This subject is under-discussed I feel. Of course simulation generally is never going to approach the real thing because there is no turning back or pressing pause. However it depends very much on what kind of sim flying you do. As attractive and stimulating procedural flying (AKA autopilot and FMC management) is, I think reality and simulation come closer together when you set yourself a basic task. For example flying a simple pattern manually in turbulence and maintaining altitude within 50 feet, shooting an accurate approach or even doing a rate one turn without gaining or losing altitude.


Anyone can programme an FMC then press Vnav and Lnav after an easy take off. What matters is how to handle alternate airports, missed approaches, not bumping into anyone or anything else, not busting altitudes or speeds and managing ATC.


The more fine you tune the goals the more realistic it is.

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One of the most unsatisfying things is pushing the LNAV/VNAV buttons and CMD A. Flying is all about doing things by hand. Plotting your route on a sectional. Looking up minimum performance in tables and curves. Setting your own personal minimums. Making a weather briefing from official weather sources. Finding landmarks to guide VFR navigation, such a town, power plant, railroad or even a bend in a river. Pulling out an E6B to calculate your ground speed, and then comparing how close your calculations are to the real thing. Comparing fuel burn inflight to what you calculated on the ground. Estimating time enroute. Enjoying the scenery. Cruising VFR on top over a stratus layer. Monitoring EGT/CHT.


That is the real satisfaction of flying and you can do those things in the simulator! Time and time again I see these self-professed experts on Twitch claim behave like they are really great pilots because they know how to operate the autopilot of a PMDG product. That doesn't even scratch the surface of what it is actually like to pilot an aircraft.


You can get a more realistic experience out of the default 172 if you do focus your goals, rather than just flying from point A to point B on autopilot in a PMDG 737. Heck, I regularly used just the default 172 in FSX for extra practice during my instrument training.

Daniel Moser



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I think reality and simualtion come closer together when you set yourself a basic task. For example flying a simple pattern manually in turbulence and maintaining altitude within 50 feet, shooting an accurate approach or even doing a rate one turn without gaining or losing altitude.


Rob - Funny thing is, I think some of these basic flying skills are actually harder to do in the sim than they are IRL.


Nevertheless, I think you make a good point.  If your desire is to create a real-world experience, then challenging yourself with such scenarios is a great way to up the realism factor.  For example, whenever I hear someone say they don't enjoy flying GA in the sim because it's boring (one of my least favorite English words), I want to challenge them to try flying a TEC route in SoCal in clouds and turbulence on a busy evening on PilotEdge to IFR test standards.  Assume a plane that simulates damage with poor engine management, so you've got to do that by the book as well and, oh yeah, as in the real world test - you can't use the AP.


Do these kinds of things and it can certainly up the realism factor.




Edit: - meant to say no GPS either.  B)

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basic PPL is about stick and rudder, navigating via chart and landmark, this is where fsim fails because of lack of feel and that pitch/power in the sim is generally unrepresentative of real life due MS FS limitations 


when it comes to IMC and learning theory, fsim is very useful, when i first started my PPL training in 2001, I was too advanced with respect of what fsim had taught me, I had to unlearn a lot of stuff and take 5 steps back.


My instructor used to rollock me all the time for having my head in the cockpit

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Good points in this thread.


I used fs during my ppl ASEL training for flows/checklists/emergency procedures - that's about it.


The instrument guys used it more often for their stuff at my school.


Most things are a lot easier in RW... Trimming is the big one, manipulating buttons/switches/knobs - a lot easier with real life tactile feedback.


You can do a lot of VFR stuff in the sim such as flight planning, course correction wind correction, pilotege, E6B computations, all the math based stuff.


Some planes give subtle hints to how the weather/wind is affecting the aircraft (Realair legacy comes to mind) when in FS, but it's still not nearly as nice (or unpleasant hehe) as real life


Id say for VFR flight 30% and IFR training 60%

|Ryan Butterworth|

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At least 50% or more... The feel, fear, and excitement of flight are not achievable in sim, however real flying for the one who do this quite often becomes the same usual thing as driving a car. And from this moment it's mostly "just a work to be done" - planning, navigating, communicating and - definitely NOT the biggest part of flying! - pilotage itself. 


Sim doesn't provide pilotage sense and excitement, but it allows to perfectly replicate the pilot's workload and all emotional rewards from being able to deal with this workload. Go PilotEdge network, jump into default C172 and try to conduct a simple visual flight from non-towered to class-B airport (and get rid of GPS if you want more sharp sensations). Forget of pilotage, concentrate on just following flying rules in real busy airspace.


Flying is not pilotage. So the weakest part of sim is not such a problem at all. But if you want exactly the FEEL OF FLIGHT, then sim will not help. And even though good models like A2A C182 will teach you most of skills required to fly real plane. You will not feel the flare moment and some other specific things, but most of flying science is at your disposal with sim.


p. s.

Even if someone cannot get PPL, it's always possible to take several private flight lessons with instructor to get "the feel". And note here: many (most?) first solo flights are made after 10-15 hours of flight instruction. So it's not that hard as it could seem. But takeoff-and-landing skill is not what makes a pilot, it's just one part of it and not the biggest one.


p. p. s.

And one more... if real flight is not an option then find the real flight instructor and ask him for several lessons IN SIM (and don't forget to pay him to get actual lessons and not just fiddling around). You will be surprised how different will become your relations with sim.

Artem Crum, EASA PPL
LINDA Lua Integrated Non-complex Device Assigning

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Very nice thread indeed. I have some time in GA but was from many years ago. That was not near enough for me to give a useful answer to the Op. One thing I will add is that for us older guys with Med issues or the vast majority of us who have had to blow all our money on stupid crap like house payments and food for pesky kids, it is a Godsend. It  gives us a chance to experience some of the joys of flight and remember the days we were lucky enough to get up there for an hour or two. If you are 30 or so years old, you have no idea how much this hobby will mean to you at age 65 or so. Just wait till the eyes start to weaken and the hearing starts to fade.


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And to the OP there is a good chance the third class medical will be abolished. Not sure if the bill has left committee but it will be a good thing for those with medical problems.


I would say 25-50% is captured by the sim. Mostly procedures, flows, and some scans. The sim helped me to understand instrument flying especially holding procedures.


The sim also helped me to understand power management for commercial maneuvers too (almost forgot- helped me immensely with lazy 8s!)




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I used the sim alot during my training. I passed my PPL two weeks ago.


Its all on the matter you use the aimulation. For example the Sim field of depth is really innacurate. In the real world being 3000 ft high it seems like your 8000 in the Sim. That creates issues when your trying to see the "textbook" picture on final.


There are plenty of upsides. For example I started simming in 2004. I have over 5000 hours logged on Vatsim. Something my instructor was really impressed in was my voice communications with ATC.


The other thing that a simulator will help you is getting familiarized with the aircraft systems. For example I flew a PA28-181 or Piper Archer. So to familiarize my self with where everything was in the aircraft I used Carenado's Arccher. I practiced checklist , flows, emergency checklist. That gave me an advantage in response time every time my instructor simulated an engine failure.


Finally the best thing youbecause for real world training is to explore areas.


Here is a good example.


My first cross country I flew KLNS-KSEG. I had never been to KSEG but because I had explored the area in the Sim I had memorized the valleys, roads, etc. Thebkey was I always had my sectional handy just like in the real world.


My final tip. Take simulation seriously. By that I mean don't just learn to fly IFR. And heavies. And PMDG "even though I love them". Remember that you need to invest in hard ware so your experience is the closest to reality. I would not have used my aim as a training tool unless I had gotten A Yoke, Rudder Pedals and an iPad for foreflight. Fsuipc is another must. Every aircraft requires its different sensitivity setting.



That's all I got!


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I learned to fly in the mid 1970's.  It was quite a bit different back then. No GPS, not near as much controlled air space.  You could actually read and decipher sectionals.  Very few GA aircraft had autopilots.  Flying was always fun and adventurous. 


I had to quit flying in the 1980's due to medical reasons.  Flight simulation has been a Godsend to me.  When I "fly" in the sim, it brings back memories long ago lost to my subconscious.  If a new piece of hardware or software improves the experience, I buy it.  I spend all my hobby money on flight simulation.  I am no longer interested in gardening, woodworking, or photography since I "rediscovered" flying four years ago.  God bless all the developers and promoters of this wonderful hobby.


To the O/P's original question, you "lose" only as much as your imagination allows.

Dennis Trawick


Screen Shot Forum Rules



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This has been an interesting thread, and thanks to all who responded.  I've always loved aviation, and looked forward to an upcoming flight for business or vacation purposes.  There was no challenge or skill required in being a passenger, so diving into flight simming became very rewarding in it's own way. 

Curt Branch

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