General Aviation and Flight Simulation
Those who have the ‘aviation bug’ as many call it can hardly remain blasé when in an airport. Prop planes, regional jets, and the big iron are everywhere, giving the entire experience an unreal, almost romantic tinge. Given this fascination with airliners, it’s easy to see the initial draw to programs such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane: who wouldn’t want to realize that glamorous dream of being an airline captain?
While many hop on to their flight simulator of choice, load up a Boeing 737 and fly from Point A to Point B, those who deal exclusively in the big iron are missing out on a very entertaining ‘other side’ of aviation: General Aviation (GA) aircraft.
Every single pilot, from the 777 captain flying from Sydney to Los Angeles to the regional jet first officer, got their beginnings in GA craft. An aspiring pilot can use their flight simulator program of choice to learn the fundamentals of aviation and navigation. AVSim.com spoke with Fernando Herrera of Carenado, a company that creates quality payware GA aircraft for Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, about the process of creating such aircraft and how a budding pilot might use flight simulator to further their study.
A Carenado aircraft goes through an extensive development process. Once the company decides to model an aircraft, they take about 1,000 pictures from the inside and outside of the plane to ensure that an accurate model is constructed. Once the developers have their visuals, Carenado collects as much information about the aircraft as it can. Herrera explains that the “POH [Pilot Operating Handbook, the ‘manual’ for the plane] and interviews with the real pilot of [an] aircraft are mandatory.” This allows the company to use the specifications set in the POH and the reports of real-world pilots to create a realistic aircraft.
After they have all the information they need, Carenado gets to work on designing the plane to work as realistically as possible in the flight simulator. Specifically, they look at internal and external modeling and textures, flight dynamics, and instruments. A second picture session may also be conducted if the company feels it is necessary. Once the aircraft is put together, it goes through phases of both internal and external beta testing to ensure a quality aircraft. After release, Carenado continues to work on the plane in a phase called ‘post service’ as “service packs could be necessary.”
Herrera places a lot of weight on testimonials from real-world pilots: “Their feedback is extremely important to us. It is essential [to know] the feeling and [every] notorious feature of each aircraft for reproducing it.”
Even though flight simulators aren’t a substitute for real-world learning and experience, they can serve as a relatively cheap and effective way of practicing your lessons while remaining on the ground. Herrera claims that “although there are limitations, following procedures, learning instruments and switch locations, and having a feeling of the aircraft is very accurate in FSX. I would say they primarily assist a student pilot in procedures and knowing the aircraft.”
Flight simulators provide a safe place to begin your understanding of flight training as the airline pilots did: climbing behind the yoke of a C172 or other GA aircraft and switching it on. Herrera closes by saying that “FSX is not a game. You don’t have a mission or objective to accomplish. It is a simulation of the world. In that regard, people are free to perform any flight they want in any aircraft, any weather, day or night, and any conditions. The main difference with real life is the price per hour.”
With your newly-gleaned understanding of GA, the aviation enthusiast has a deeper understanding of the basics of flight and a stronger respect for the men and women who take to the skies.