More About X-Plane Situations and “Scenario-Based Training”

To allay confusion about the “situation” with the Situations that I created to complement the scenarios in my latest book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator, here’s a little more information. As I explained earlier, the developer of X-Plane frequently updates the code, and each time he does, the format of the .sit files changes, and you may not be able to load the provided Situation.

It’s not practical for me to recreate the Situations every time Austin updates X-Plane and to try to maintain an archive of the files for every version that folks may be using at any time. If he stabilizes the .sit format in future, I’ll create new Situations.

But the Situations I provided are just a convenience. You can use any recent version of X-Plane with the scenarios described in each lesson. In fact, you could use the scenarios/lessons effectively with any simulation (FTD, PC-based, etc.), provided that simulation has the required scenery, navaids, etc. Instructors can also use the scenarios and templates for lesson plans, as part of ground-school classes, flight planning exercises, challenges for practicing aeronautical decision making, and so forth.

I focused on X-Plane and FSX because they’re the most popular, cost-effective PC-based simulations that are widely available. I documented the core features of those simulations (again, not especially dependent on a specific version) that help instructors, students, and pilots use them effectively to complement formal training or just have more fun with the hobby of virtual aviation.

Again, the core of the book, the FITS-based scenarios, can be used with many simulations. If you use X-Plane, you just need to use the information provided for each lesson/scenario to place your aircraft at the starting location, adjust the weather, and then start “flying.”

For more information about the book, visit its pages at my Website and at Facebook.

More Details Emerge about Microsoft Flight

Microsoft Flight, the successor to Microsoft Flight Simulator, is in beta. Now more details about the new game (Microsoft dropped simulator from the title) are emerging. You can find a summary from one person who attended the unveiling at Microsoft here.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the game will be offered as a free download. That initial release includes only a couple of aircraft and the scenery and activities are limited to Hawaii. Users eventually will be able to download additional scenery, aircraft, and activities from Microsoft, with each module coming at a price, as yet unannounced.

According to the account above, however, Microsoft will not publish information about how to create add-ons for Microsoft Flight, and, apparently, it will not allow others to host or distribute additional content for the game. Everything will come from Microsoft.

That latter point is telling, and it ends a decades-long practice that led to a worldwide community of developers and enthusiasts who created add-on aircraft, scenery, and features for the Flight Simulator franchise.

Aviation Movies

The arrival of Red Tails in theaters (and to the disappointment of most reviewers, pilots and non-aviators alike) suggests that it might be time to revive a discussion of favorite aviation movies.

This list, at Air & Space Smithsonian, is an excellent place to start, but it was published in 2006 and is therefore missing the latest flicks and some (corny) classics (e.g., Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and many serials that included aerial adventures. On the other hand, I can’t think of many recent films that deserve honorable mention, especially given the trend toward CGI, which although capable of stunning visuals, has yet to reproduce realistic flying scenes.

(You can see a list of movies [some 600] with an “aviation” theme at IMdb.)

Two Battle of Britain films and mini-series deserve mention:

Of course, there’s a host of campy aviation-themed movies that support a variety of drinking games, including:

And classic dramas in which airplanes and aviation are important supporting characters, for example:

Other movies that feature aircraft in supporting roles:

In addition, some TV series focused on aviation or included episodes in which aircraft had prominent roles:

I’m sure the collective wisdom of the web can name scores of other examples. Feel free to contribute via comments.

Changes in February 9 2012 Edition of the AIM

The FAA has released the basic version of the February 9 2012 edition of the Aeronautical Information Manual. (You can download the PDF version of the new edition here; the web version presumably will appear on the official publication date.)

According to the Explanation of Changes in the new edition, the key revisions include:

c. 4−1−20. Transponder Operation

This change explains that transponders should be turned on prior to moving on the airport surface – as opposed to “as soon as possible.”

d. 4−3−23. Use of Aircraft Lights

This change aligns the AIM guidance on the use of aircraft lights with AC 120-74A.

e. 4−4−3. Clearance Items

This change adds language to inform pilots of what to expect from controllers concerning clearance limits and associated phraseology.

h. 5−5−16. RNAV and RNP Operations

This change provides guidance for the definition of “established” for RNAV and RNP operations. [For a more detailed discussion of this update, see this post here at BruceAir.]

k. 7−1−21. PIREPS Relating to Airframe Icing

This change addresses the change to the icing intensity definitions, quantifiable icing rates, and an updated replacement for current terminology. It would also help satisfy NTSB Safety recommendations A-96-51 and -060.*


TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Revise the existing aircraft icing intensity reporting criteria (as defined in the Aeronautical Info Manual (AIM) and other FAA literature) by including nomenclature that is related to specific types of aircraft, and that is in logical agreement with existing Federal Aviation Regulation (FARs).

Flight Models and FAA Approval of Training Devices

Many pilots and flight instructors obsess about the fidelity of the “flight models” (the more formal term is “flight dynamics”) of PC-based simulations and flight training devices (FTDs). They equate detailed, accurate flight dynamics for specific aircraft with FAA approval, but the FAA actually imposes few specific requirements on the flight modeling for ATDs and BATDs [see AC 61-136 – FAA Approval of Aviation Training Devices and Their Use for Training and Experience].

ATDs and BATDs often use Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane as the core of the software component of the training device. [The requirements for more sophisticated FTDs (which are approved at several levels) are spelled out in detail in Appendix B to Part 60—Qualification Performance Standards for Airplane Flight Training Devices of the FARs.]

For example, Appendix B of AC 61-136 includes detailed requirements about the controls and displays required for FAA approval, but about flight dynamics it says only:

Flight dynamics of the ATD should be comparable to the way the represented training aircraft performs and handles. However, there is no requirement for an ATD to have control loading to exactly replicate any particular aircraft.. . .

Aircraft performance parameters (such as maximum speed, cruise speed, stall speed, maximum climb rate, and hovering/sideward/forward/rearward flight) should be comparable to the aircraft being represented.

Aircraft vertical lift component must change as a function of bank comparable to the way the aircraft being represented performs and handles.

Changes in flap setting, slat setting, gear position, collective control, or cyclic control must be accompanied by changes in flight dynamics comparable to the way the M/M of aircraft represented performs and handles.

The presence and intensity of wind and turbulence must be reflected in the handling and performance qualities of the simulated aircraft and should be comparable to the way the aircraft represented performs and handles.

In fact, with regard to FTDs and all ATDs and BATDs, the FAA is most concerned with the controls, instruments, and switches in the cockpit and the visual displays than it is with the detailed handling qualities of the simulation–provided the virtual aircraft, in general, behaves like a single-engine or multiengine airplane.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that flight dynamics aren’t important, or that flight simulations shouldn’t strive for high fidelity. But implicit in the FAA approval standards is the idea that FTDs, ATDs, and BATDs can play many roles in aviation training without having to replicate a specific make, model, or type of aircraft.

That’s a central theme of my two books about using PC-based simulations in flight training, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations based on FAA and Industry Training Standards (published January 2012) and Microsoft Flight Simulator as a Training Aid (published in January 2007).

If you’re considering using a simulation to complement your training, focus on what PC-based simulations, including BATD and ATD, do best–help you learn and master important skills and procedures–how to think like a pilot. Don’t dismiss a simulation just because it doesn’t exactly reproduce the aircraft you fly.

Updated Definition of “Established” On Course

The basic definition of established, from the Pilot/Controller Glossary, is:

ESTABLISHED−To be stable or fixed on a route, route segment, altitude, heading, etc.

The ICAO definition, which appeared in an appendix of a former edition of the Instrument Procedures Handbook, included the following language:

…an aircraft is considered established when it is “within half full scale deflection for the ILS and VOR; or within ±5 degrees of the required bearing for the NDB.”

A more detailed definition of established in the AIM (see below) focuses on RNAV and RNP operations. (For most general aviation pilots, that means GPS/WAAS procedures.) It’s the result of a long discussion among members of the FAA Aeronautical Charting Forum–Instrument Procedures Group. The topic (item 96-01-166) began as a discussion of “on course” but eventually narrowed its focus to “Determining Descent Point of Flyby Waypoints,” which is another way of stating the primary issue: When is it OK to descend (consistent, of course, with your last clearance from ATC) as you join the next segment of an approach or transition?

AIM 5-5-16

11. Definition of “established” for RNAV and RNP operations. An aircraft is considered to be established on-course during RNAV and RNP operations anytime it is within 1 times the required accuracy for the segment being flown. For example, while operating on a Q-Route (RNAV 2), the aircraft is considered to be established on-course when it is within 2 nm of the course centerline.

NOTE: Pilots must be aware of how their navigation system operates, along with any AFM limitations, and confirm that the aircraft’s lateral deviation display (or map display if being used as an allowed alternate means) is suitable for the accuracy of the segment being flown. Automatic scaling and alerting changes are appropriate for some operations. For example, TSO-C129 systems change within 30 miles of destination and within 2 miles of FAF to support approach operations. For some navigation systems and operations, manual selection of scaling will be necessary.

(a) Pilots flying FMS equipped aircraft with barometric vertical navigation (Baro-VNAV) may descend when the aircraft is established on-course following FMS leg transition to the next segment. Leg transition normally occurs at the turn bisector for a fly-by waypoint (reference paragraph 1-2-1 for more on waypoints). When using full automation, pilots should monitor the aircraft to ensure the aircraft is turning at appropriate lead times and descending once established on-course.

(b) Pilots flying TSO-C129 navigation system equipped aircraft [i.e., non-WAAS GPS] without full automation should use normal lead points to begin the turn. Pilots may descend when established on-course on the next segment of the approach.

The key phrase is “within 1 times the required accuracy for the segment being flown.” To know that, you must understand how your GPS box works. For example, the  Pilot’s Guide and Reference for the Garmin GNS530W notes that:

…The [default] CDI scale is set to 2.0 NM during the “en route” phase of flight. Within 31 NM of your destination airport, the CDI scale gradually ramps down to 1.0 NM (terminal area). Likewise, when leaving your departure airport the CDI scale is set to 1.0 NM and gradually ramps up to 2 NM beyond 30 NM (from the departure airport). During approach operations the CDI scale gradually transitions down to an angular CDI scale. At 2.0 NM of the final approach fix (FAF), CDI scaling is tightened from 1.0 to the angular full scale deflection (typically the angular full-scale deflection is 2.0°, but will be as defined for the approach). (p. 182)

Those scales are consistent with TSO C146a standards for WAAS-based avionics, which, for example, tighten the default CDI scale for en route operations from 5 nm (1 nm/dot) to 2.0 nm. On units like the Garmin GNS530/430 series that show 5 dots either side of the center of the built-in CDI, that scale equates to 0.4 nm/dot. (For a good discussion of this topic, see “Changing CDI Course Sensitivity” and “Enroute CDI Sensitivity with WAAS” in Chapter 13 of Rod Machado’s Instrument Pilot’s Handbook.)

If you’re curious about the various RNAV levels associated with different phases of flight and types of procedures, and the capabilities of various avionics (subject to any limitations in your AFM), see:

*To keep up with substantive changes to the AIM in each new edition, see the Explanation of Changes sections published at the AIM home page. You can find PDF versions of the AIM and updates here.

FAA Provides More Details about Cutting VORs

The FAA recently published information about its plans to shut down VORs as it transitions to a GPS-based navigation system, an overhaul that’s part of the NextGen program.

Update: FAA Proposed Policy for Discontinuance of Certain Instrument Approach Procedures. Although this proposal is not directly related to the VOR Minimum Operational Network, it’s of interest to pilots who rely on ground-based navigation aids under IFR.

Now, at the behest of AOPA, FAA has released a few specifics about the proposal, including the map below that shows which VORs (green) will remain as others (red) are shut down, no later than 2020.

According to the FAA summary document:

FAA is planning on removing many of the 954 federally-owned and operated VORs and establishing a Minimum Operational Network (MON) of VORs not later than 2020…The purpose of the MON is to maintain a backup navigation capability to provide service for VOR-equipped aircraft in case of a GPS outage. In the MON, all VORs will be retained in Alaska, the Western U.S. Mountainous Area (WUSMA), and U.S. Islands and territories.

The FAA summary describes the “backup navigation capability” this way:

The MON will provide a safe landing for VOR-equipped aircraft flying under IFR in the case of a GPS outage. However, in general, the MON will not provide an efficient or useable navigation network for VOR-only aircraft (i.e., aircraft not equipped with GPS or Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) avionics). VOR-based navigation using only the MON would likely be circuitous, and not all airports will have instrument approaches that will be useable by VOR-only aircraft. The MON could be used by aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), but the primary purpose of the MON is to support safe landing of IFR aircraft during a GPS outage.

The document also notes that:

In considering VORs for discontinuance, each facility will be evaluated on its own merits. The FAA will convene a working group that will develop a candidate list of VORs for discontinuance using relevant operational, safety, cost, and economic criteria. As part of the process, this working group will engage aviation industry stakeholders and other members of the public for input.

For more details about the plan to shut down VORs, see the AOPA summary and the FAA white paper, which includes additional maps and tables, here. Comments on the FAA’s proposal are due March 7, 2012.

Using X-Plane Situations with “Scenario-Based Training”

My new book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations Based on FAA-Industry Training Standards, is now available. If you use X-Plane, you should be aware that the Situations posted for download from the book’s page at the publisher’s website may not work with your version of X-Plane.

When I asked about compatibility last year, I understood that the Situations I created while using X-Plane 9 would work with subsequent versions of the simulation. But according to recent email from the developer, the file format changes “a lot,” and he explained that “i am working to make the situations more robust in with-standing file-format changes in the future, but have not yet done so.”

It’s not practical to update all of the Situations every time the format changes–one of the features of X-Plane is frequent updates, even between major versions.

My best advice? If you can’t load the Situation files provided to complement the scenarios in the book, you can use the descriptions of each lesson to quickly set up the Cessna (or your choice of aircraft) at the location where a particular virtual flight begins. As noted in Chapter 10, “Using the Scenarios in This Book,” the Situations are just starting points; they’re not interactive “missions” (see especially p. 109-110). For more information about X-Plane and Situations, see Chapter 6, “A Quick Guide to X-Plane” and the help resources described there.