Vertical Roll and Hammerhead

A short clip of a vertical roll to a hammerhead, followed by a roll on the vertical down line. It was a lovely day to fly in the Pacific Northwest. For more videos, visit my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.

Pictures from an Aerobatic Ride

It was a lovely day to fly in the Pacific Northwest. I gave an aerobatic ride in the Extra 300L. Here’s a link to a gallery of images captured from the video.

You can find videos of aerobatic flights on my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.


Video Highlights from an Aerobatic Ride

I had an enthusiastic passenger for an aerobatic ride in the Extra 300L the other day. Here are video highlights from the flight. More videos at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying

Draft AC 90-114A: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Operations

FAA has published a draft update to AC 90-114A: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Operations. It contains useful definitions and references for pilots who want to learn more about ADS-B.

Microsoft Flight Simulator: Revived?

Microsoft and Dovetail Games have struck a deal that will bring Microsoft Flight Simulator X (released in 2006) to the Steam online gaming platform in 2015. The sketchy details are outlined in a July 9 press release, which you can read here. Excerpt:

The award-winning creators of the best-selling Train Simulator franchise have today announced a global licensing deal with Microsoft, granting them the rights to develop and publish all-new flight products based on Microsoft’s genre-defining flight technology. The company is currently investigating new concepts in this area and is expecting to bring a release to market in 2015.

In addition to this licensing agreement, Dovetail Games is pleased to announce that it has also acquired the rights to distribute the multi-award winning Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition via Valve’s popular digital retail channel, Steam, entitled Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition.

Gamespot published a report on the deal, here. Excerpt:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound as if the Steam Edition of Flight Simulator X will feature any improvements. Dovetail told GameSpot, "We have the license to re-release FSX on Steam and this does not extend to making product improvements. However, we will include all possible bug fixes we can. One area that will require some work is the use that FSX made use of GameSpy for multiplayer features. As you may know, GameSpy is no longer available and so we are looking for alternate ways of providing this functionality including using features in Steam."

Additionally, Dovetail says the new game it’s working on won’t actually be called Microsoft Flight Simulator; it will simply be using Microsoft’s technology. As of yet, there is no title for the new game coming next year.

The Flight Review

I see many questions about the flight review (formerly called the biennial flight review) that most pilots must complete, per 14 CFR 61.56.

The basics of a flight review are simple. Again, according to the regulation:

…(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (f) of this section, a flight review consists of a minimum of 1 hour of flight training and 1 hour of ground training. The review must include:

(1) A review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91 of this chapter; and

(2) A review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.

Those two items give the instructor who conducts the review a lot of latitude. And they create much confusion among pilots who are looking for an instructor. Often, pilots and instructors have differing expectations about what a flight review should—and shouldn’t—include, how much time it should take, and, of course, what the event will cost.

FAA References

FAA has published two important documents that help explain the goals the agency has for flight reviews:

Those documents include references, checklists, and general guidance for the pilot and instructor to ensure that the flight review is more than just a pro-forma exercise. Those tools are also great time-savers for CFIs who want to provide organized, structured, and beneficial flight reviews.

The FAA references above answer many common questions about the flight review. For example, many pilots don’t understand that a flight review in one class or category of aircraft meets the requirement for all aircraft they fly (at least under the basic provisions of 14 CFR Part 91):

[A] pilot must accomplish a flight review in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated. A pilot might hold multiple ratings. In such case, the pilot may take a flight review in any one of the aircraft for which he or she holds a rating or operating privilege and they will have met the regulatory requirement for all aircraft for which they hold a certificate and or rating. For example, a pilot who holds a private pilot certificate with an ASEL rating and a commercial balloon certificate may take a flight review in either aircraft and will have met the requirements of the rule for both. However, a pilot may not take a flight review in an aircraft for which he or she does not hold a rating or operating privilege. For example, that same ASEL rated pilot may not take a flight review in a Multiengine Land (MEL) airplane if he or she does not hold an MEL airplane rating. A pilot who holds only a sport pilot certificate may only take a flight review in a light sport aircraft for which he or she holds an operational privilege. For example, a sport pilot who holds airplane privileges could not take the flight review in a Cessna 172 since that airplane is not a light sport airplane and he or she does not hold operating privileges for that airplane. (AC 61-98B)

Pilots also often ask if training for an aircraft checkout or high-performance, complex, or tailwheel endorsement resets the flight review clock. The answer is a qualified “yes”—provided that the pilot and instructor understand from the outset that the pilot would like a flight review endorsement at the end of the training. Of course, the ground training for the checkout or endorsement must include the review of part 91 specified in the regulations, and the flight instructor must specifically endorse the pilot’s logbook with the appropriate entry for completion of a flight review in addition to the endorsement to act as PIC of, for example, a tailwheel, high-performance, or complex aircraft. (For examples of the appropriate logbook endorsements, see AC 61-65H Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors. ASA publishes a handy free PDF document with endorsements ready to print on labels.)

Successfully completing a practical test for a new pilot certificate or rating also meets the requirement for a flight review. The FAA recently revised 14 CFR 61.56 to add flight instructor practical tests to those qualifying events. and FAA Handbooks

Many CFIs and pilots use resources at to meet the ground instruction requirement of a flight review. The FAA site includes a free flight review preparation Course (ALC-25: Flight Review Prep Guide) that essentially meets the requirement for a review of part 91. Printing the completion certificate and keeping it with your logbook helps demonstrate that you’ve met more than the letter of the law.

Of course, pilots preparing for a flight review should brush up on the current edition of the Aeronautical Information Manual. It’s available to download as a PDF that you can keep on your tablet or smartphone.

FAA handbooks are available for download at Handbooks and Manuals on the FAA website.

I also maintain a collection of useful aviation references and handbooks in a public OneDrive folder, Aviation Documents.


AOPA Air Safety Institute also offers excellent, free resources for both pilots and instructors, including free online courses, Safety Advisors, and other training aids such as flash cards and webinars.

I assign ASI online courses and background reading to all pilots who come to me for a flight review. Start at The Flight Review and the Pilot’s Guide to the Flight Review.

I typically ask pilots to review:

Preflight Preparation

New online resources and tablet-based apps like ForeFlight, WingX, and Garmin Pilot have changed the preflight planning habits of many pilots. I recommend the following resources for pilots who want to update their understanding of weather, NOTAMs, and related information:

Getting Back into Flying

If you’ve been away from the cockpit for a while, a typical flight review probably won’t be sufficient to get you back u to speed. AOPA has an excellent program, Rusty Pilots, that helps folks learn about key changes to regulations, airspace, and procedures; and offers advice about finding an instructor.

Understanding New Cockpit Technology

A flight review is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with new cockpit displays and technology. For pilots are transition from so-called steam gauges, I recommend the following resources:

  • Advanced Avionics Handbook (FAA-H-8083-6), a general introduction to advanced avionics, including PFDs, MFDs, autopilots, and GPS-based navigators. It’s not an operating handbook for specific boxes (you can download free PDF versions of the guides for specific devices from the manufacturers’ websites). But it’s an excellent guide to the core operating principles, standard displays, and other information that applies to all advanced avionics.
  • Instrument Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-15B); even if you’re not an IFR pilot, the chapters about flying with electronic flight displays (Chapter 6, Section II and Chapter 7, Section II) are good introductions to the displays and symbols used in typical PFDs and related cockpit displays.

Simulations, Flight Simulators, FTDs, and ATDs

Pilots and flight instructors often debate the value of using flight simulation to complement flight training. We casually use the phrase flight simulator when referring to non-flying gizmos that re-create, at varying levels of fidelity, the experience of being in an airplane cockpit. Simulator is a handy shortcut, but can lead to confusion about how such devices can be used during training and to maintain currency. Equally important, misunderstanding the differences among simulations, flight simulators, flight training devices (FTD) and aviation training devices (ATD) often means these tools aren’t used most appropriately or effectively.

On June 27, 2018, FAA published several important changes to 14 CFR Part 61 that expand the use of ATD, FTD, and FFS to maintain IFR currency. You can read about those changes at BruceAir here.

See also the latest version of  AC 61-136B, FAA Approval of Aviation Training Devices and Their Use for Training and Experience. More information here: New AC for ATDs.

The following discussion is based on Chapter 3, “Using PC-Based Simulations Effectively” in my last book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations based on FAA and Industry Training Standards (ISBN: 978-1-1181-0502-3).

For additional information about how the FAA classifies flight simulators and flight training devices, see the November/December 2017 issue of FAA Safety Briefing. That entire edition is devoted to flight simulation.

Simulators, FTDs, and Simulations

Technological leaps have blurred the lines that just a few years ago distinguished the capabilities of full-motion simulators from the features of the home cockpits that hobbyists set up in their basements and garages. Recent changes to the definitions of and the regulations governing the use of FAA-approved simulators have added to the aviation community’s confusion about these tools.

Key Categories

The FAA recognizes four general categories of flight simulation systems:

  • Full Flight Simulator (FFS)
  • Flight Training Device (FTD)
  • Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD)
  • Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD)

The first two categories are described in 14 CFR 60: Flight Simulation Training Device Initial and Continuing Qualification and Use. ATDs are discussed in AC 61-136.

Each category of simulator and training device includes levels that describe the increasing sophistication, capability, and fidelity of the systems.

Full Flight Simulators

The term Full Flight Simulator (FFS) replaces airplane simulator, previously defined in AC 120-45A. According to the current FAA regulations, an FFS is a

…replica of a specific type, make, model, or series aircraft. It includes the equipment and computer programs necessary to represent aircraft operations in ground and flight conditions, a visual system providing an out-of-the-flight deck view, a system that provides cues at least equivalent to those of a three-degree-of-freedom motion system, and has the full range of capabilities of the systems installed in the device….(14 CFR 60, Appendix F)

The core of that definition remains “replica of a specific type, make, model, or series aircraft.” In other words, a flight simulator duplicates the performance and flying characteristics of a particular airplane, and it must re-create an airplane’s cockpit with great fidelity, including exact reproductions of the real aircraft’s physical controls, instrumentation, and switches. It must reproduce the aircraft’s flight characteristics with high fidelity. The photo below shows a typical modern full flight simulator made by CAE.


Flight Training Devices (FTDs)

The same regulations update the definition of a Flight Training Device (FTD) to:

…a replica of aircraft instruments, equipment, panels, and controls in an open flight deck area or an enclosed aircraft flight deck replica. It includes the equipment and computer programs necessary to represent aircraft (or set of aircraft) operations in ground and flight conditions having the full range of capabilities of the systems installed in the device…for a specific FTD qualification level. (14 CFR 60, Appendix F)

That description drops the requirement that an FTD must mimic a specific make or model of an aircraft. The degree to which a particular FTD must emulate an aircraft’s controls, instruments, and switches depends on the device’s certification level, but in general, an FTD doesn’t have to duplicate every switch. The photo below shows an FTD manufactured by Precision Flight Controls.

105023 f0302

For example, a Level 4 FTD, the least sophisticated type:

…may have an open airplane-specific flight deck area, or an enclosed airplane-specific flight deck and at least one operating system. Air/ground logic is required (no aerodynamic programming required). All displays may be flat/LCD panel representations or actual representations of displays in the aircraft. All controls, switches, and knobs may be touch sensitive activation (not capable of manual manipulation of the flight controls) or may physically replicate the aircraft in control operation. (14 CFR 60, Appendix F)

Level 5 and 6 FTDs must replicate the cockpits and flight characteristics of aircraft with increasing precision.

Basic and Advanced Aviation Training Devices

In 1997, the FAA published AC 61-126, Qualification and Approval of Personal Computer-Based Aviation Training Devices, which, as the title implies, discussed the use of PC-based simulations. PCATDs, as the devices were known, included software like Microsoft Flight Simulator, hardware (usually one or more consoles that incorporated a flight yoke and other controls and switches), and a display (typically an off-the-shelf computer monitor). Because the technology was new, the FAA restricted the use of PCATDs to a few basic tasks required during primary and instrument flight training.

Technological advances and the aviation community’s experience with PCATDs led the FAA to update the definition and expand the use of PC-based simulations. AC 61-136 – FAA Approval of Aviation Training Devices and Their Use for Training and Experience, first issued in 2008, retired the PCATD category and described the PC-based training devices that the FAA now approves for use in aviation training.

The core requirements for BATDs and AATDs are more general than those specified for flight simulators and FTDs. For example, according to AC 61-136B, a BATD “Provides a training platform for at least the procedural aspects of flight relating to an integrated ground and flight instrument training curriculum.”

The photo below shows a typical ATD made by Precision Flight Controls.

105023 f0303

The more sophisticated AATD “Provides a training platform for both procedural and operational performance tasks related to ground and flight training towards private pilot, commercial pilot, and airline transport pilot certificates, a flight instructor certificate, and instrument rating.”

The hardware specifications for BATDs and ATTDs are similar. For example, a BATD “must provide certain physical controls and may provide some virtual controls,” described as follows:

(1) Physical flight and aircraft system controls should be recognizable as to their function and how they are to be manipulated solely from their appearance. Physical flight and aircraft system controls eliminate the use of interfaces such as a keyboard, mouse, or gaming joystick to control the represented aircraft model in simulated flight.

(2) For the purposes of this AC, virtual control is any input device to control aspects of the simulation (such as setting aircraft configuration, location, and weather) and to program, pause, or freeze the device. Virtual controls should be primarily for the instructor’s use…

(4) The physical arrangement, appearance, and operation of controls, instruments, and switches…should model at least one aircraft in the family of aircraft represented as closely as practicable. Manufacturers are expected to use their best efforts to recreate the appearance, arrangement, operation, and function of realistically placed physical switches and other required controls representative of a generic aircraft instrument panel. (FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136)

The Deeper Distinction

It’s as easy to distinguish superficially between an FFS and a BATD as it is to see the differences between a single-engine trainer and an airliner. But there’s more than technology behind the differences between types of simulation devices. They’re intended for fundamentally different uses.

Simply put, an FFS is a substitute for a specific aircraft, and in many circumstances, pilots using an FFS can receive all the training required to operate the simulated airplane and earn a type rating for that aircraft without ever leaving the ground. In fact, airline pilots who have completed training for a new type in an FFS, and who may never have been in the cockpit of the real aircraft that the simulator emulates, often make their first flights in that airplane in regular revenue service with passengers on board.

To achieve the level of fidelity necessary to meet that goal, the specifications for an FFS are extensive, detailed, and stringent. As noted earlier, they require that a simulator duplicate a specific cockpit. The FFS must also have a wide-view, high-resolution display; “flying” characteristics that closely mimic those of the real airplane throughout its normal flight envelope; a sophisticated sound system; and motion that accurately re-creates the feel of flying.

Level 4, 5, and 6, FTDs are by definition less comprehensive representations of specific aircraft or broad types of airplanes, and as such, the requirements they must meet are less stringent. They also can’t be used to complete all of the training pilots must receive. To earn type ratings or similar approvals to act as the pilot in command of an aircraft simulated by an FTD, pilots eventually must fly the real airplane—or train in an appropriate FFS.

A BATD or AATD, however, is not intended to be a replacement for a specific aircraft, or even a series of related aircraft—it’s not a simulator. In fact, as their full names imply, BATDs and AATDs are not even flight training devices.

Instead, BATDs and AATDs are Aviation Training Devices (ATDs) intended to complement aircraft—and ground-school classrooms—throughout a training program. The FAA explains the distinction this way:

Instructors have typically taught flight task procedural skills almost exclusively during in-flight training and aeronautical knowledge during ground training. However, based on the available data, the FAA has determined that instructors can successfully teach procedural understanding of certain flight tasks during ground and flight training using [BATDs and AATDs]….(FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136)

In other words, ATD aren’t intended—primarily at least—to help pilots develop and hone stick-and-rudder skills. They’re essentially procedural and part-task trainers to help pilots understand and apply important concepts and to practice and master general procedures that apply to a variety of aircraft.


Finally a simulation, flight or otherwise, is just a representation—these days typically a virtual representation—of something. That something can be a physical object or a process.

The key to using PC-based simulations effectively, then, is understanding that like BATDs and AATDs, they are tools to help pilots grasp general principals and practice basic procedures through hands-on experience.

Where X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator Fit In

You may have noticed the discussion of BATD and AATD hasn’t mentioned X-Plane or FSX. The reason is straightforward—neither product by itself meets the FAA standards for a “training device,” which by definition must include software and hardware, such as flight controls and cockpit switches.

Physical flight and aircraft system controls [of an ATD] should be recognizable as to their function and how they are to be manipulated solely from their appearance. Physical flight and aircraft system controls eliminate the use of interfaces such as a keyboard, mouse, or gaming joystick to control the represented aircraft model in simulated flight. (FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136)

The only significant physical difference between X-Plane or FSX configured as described in Chapter 1, “What You Need to Use this Book,” and a BATD is the use of a “gaming” joystick for primary flight control and a mouse to operate the virtual switches and other controls depicted on the cockpit display. The FAA requirements for a BATD restrict the use of a mouse and keyboard as follows:

Except for setup and/or fault mode entry, neither the keyboard nor the mouse may be used to set or position any feature of the BATD in the represented aircraft for the maneuvers or flight training to be accomplished…The pilot must operate the additional equipment needed in order to accomplish a training procedure…in the same manner in which it would be operated in the represented aircraft. For example, [by using] landing gear, wing flaps, cowl flaps, carburetor heat control, and mixture, propeller, and throttle controls. (FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136)

The latest flight yokes, throttle quadrants, and other accessories developed for hobbyists, however, meet the FAA requirement that they be “recognizable as to their function and how they are to be manipulated solely from their appearance.”  Many BATDs use such off-the-shelf cockpit controls.

Flight Dynamics

No issue generates more heated debated among users of PC-based simulations—including pilots and flight instructors—than the perceived realism of the “flight” characteristics (also known as the “flight models,” or, more formally, the “flight dynamics”) of different simulations.

Because BATDs and AATDs are aviation training devices, not flight simulators, the FAA lays out only general standards for the flight models that drive them. Note that throughout the following descriptions, there is no requirement that a flight model replicate the characteristics of a specific airplane:

(1) 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…

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

(3) Aircraft vertical lift component must change as a function of bank, comparable to the way the aircraft or family of aircraft being represented performs and handles.

(4) 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 aircraft or family of aircraft represented performs and handles.

(5) 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 or family of aircraft represented performs and handles. (FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-136, Appendix 2)

Put in more familiar terms, the virtual airplane inside an ATD must bank left when you move the yoke to the left. The nose must pitch up when you pull back on the flight controls. Changing power should make the aircraft speed up or slow down (or affect its rate of climb or descent). The rates at which the airplane rolls, pitches, and yaws should be “comparable” to the way a given airplane or family of similar aircraft responds to a pilot’s actions.

For the purposes of this book, then, there’s no meaningful distinction between the “blade element theory” at the core of X-Plane and the classic “6-degree-of-freedom” model employed in FSX. (If you’re interested in the technical details of each approach, see the links to more information at this book’s website.) Both simulations, in fact, exceed the general requirements for the flight model at the heart of an ATD. The choice of which PC-based simulation to use depends largely on personal perception of how the virtual aircraft respond and on other considerations, as described in Chapter 5, “Choosing a PC-Based Simulation: X-Plane or FSX?”

Additional Information