Flying an Approach with only an iPad

You’re suddenly having a bad IFR day. As you approach your destination, Huron, SD, after a routine departure and a comfortable cruise in IMC, most of your panel abruptly goes dark. You still have basic flight instruments, including an electronic PFD and an HSI, which run on backup batteries. Your last communications with ATC included a clearance to an initial approach fix and “expect the ILS RWY 12 approach.” But your GPS navigator, which includes navigation receivers, is now kaput, along with your second nav/com. In other words, you have no moving map or course guidance in the panel–just attitude, airspeed, altitude, and heading. You can’t even see a GPS track indicator.

The good news is, you have an iPad with a built-in GPS (or a tablet connected to an external GPS source) running ForeFlight or a similar app. The EFB confirms that your blue “own ship” symbol is tracking toward HUMSO, an initial approach fix that marks the beginning of a feeder route that takes you to the final approach course.

Using just your track shown on the approach chart, and your basic instrument flying skills, can you fly the approach?

I practice such scenarios periodically during recurrent training. In my A36 Bonanza, operating under VFR with a safety pilot, I switch the navigation screen on my GTN 750Xi to the traffic page, which provides no navigation information, and then I practice getting to an airport and flying an approach using only the iPad for guidance.

Of course, an iPad isn’t a “suitable RNAV system” as defined in the AIM and FAA advisory circulars, but in IMC under IFR, this scenario qualifies as an emergency, and you can bend the rules as necessary to arrive safely.

As you’ll see in this video, a challenge like this is also an excellent workout in an aviation training device. Galvin Flying, the flight school in Seattle where I instruct, has two ATDs made by one-G Simulations. They emulate C172s. You can connect ForeFlight to the Wi-Fi signals broadcast by each trainer, which send position, altitude, speed, and other information to your tablet. As far as ForeFlight is concerned, you’re flying.

Just as in the airplane, provided your EFB can receive GPS signals, you have a good 2-D navigation solution. If you can keep your blue airplane tracking along the lines on a geo-referenced approach chart, you’ll follow the intended path. What you don’t get, however, is any type of vertical guidance. It’s up to you to establish and maintain a steady descent that keeps you as close as possible to an ILS glideslope or a GPS glidepath for an approach to a DA, or to the profile for a non-precision approach to an MDA.

You may also want to practice using the synthetic vision feature, if your EFB app supports it. Although I prefer flying with the procedure chart visible, synthetic vision would be a terrific aid if you lose the basic flight instruments.

Flying an approach like this successfully requires mastery of fundamental instrument skills, what we used to call flying with only “needle, ball, and airspeed.” You must understand and be able to apply the control-performance method of instrument flying—establishing the appropriate attitude, setting power and configuration, monitoring your progress, and making constant, smooth adjustments as you proceed. In other words, it’s a good test that takes you back to drills like flying Pattern A and Pattern B that you practiced early in your IFR training.

Watch the video to see how accurately I flew two approaches in the ATD with just the airplane symbol on an approach chart for guidance.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and ForeFlight

Sporty’s iPad Pilot News has a helpful article about how to connect the new FS2020 to ForeFlight. (You can also find details about using iPads with other PC-based simulations and some ATDs at iPad Pilot News here.)

The process involves using a small utility called Flight Events Client, ensuring that both your iPad and the computer running FS2020 are on the same wifi network, and selecting Flight Events Client as a device in ForeFlight. I have not tested the utility with other EFB apps such as Garmin Pilot.

My tests so far indicate the utility works well, although I did notice that my virtual airplane made occasional jumps into hyperspace before returning to the correct place on the ForeFlight map.

For my initial assessment of using FS2020 to complement flight training and proficiency, see Flight Simulator 2020: First Impressions.

New AC for ATDs

FAA has published AC 61-136B, FAA Approval of Aviation Training Devices and Their Use for Training and Experience, an update to the previous edition of the advisory circular.

I wrote about the earlier update to this AC in 2013, here. See also New IFR Currency Rules and Other Changes to 14 CFR Part 61.


The Foundation from one-G, an AATD based on the C172, is among the newest FAA-approved ATDs.

This AC provides information and guidance for Aviation Training Device (ATD) manufacturers seeking Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of a basic aviation training device (BATD) or advanced aviation training device (AATD)…

This AC also provides information and guidance for those persons who intend to use a BATD or AATD for activities involving pilot training and experience, other than for practical tests, aircraft-type-specific training, or an aircraft type rating.

For most pilots, flight schools, and flight instructors, the most relevant section is Appendix D, Training Content and Logging Provisions, which includes a syllabus for integrated training using ATDs.

That appendix also clarifies how pilots and CFI should log time when using ATDs.

Logging Training Time and Experience. Authorized instructors utilizing an FAA-approved ATD for airmen training, pilot time, and experience requirements are required to log the time as dual instruction and as basic aviation training device (BATD) or advanced aviation training device (AATD) time appropriately. Any columns that reference flight time should remain blank when logging ATD time. ATD time can only be logged as Instruction Received (Dual), Instrument Time, or Total Time as reflected on the pilot time section of FAA Form 8710-1, Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application. Simulated instrument time can be logged in an ATD, but only during the time when the visual component of the training session is configured for instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and the pilot is maintaining control solely by reference to the flight instruments. Logging time in this fashion will allow a pilot to credit this time towards the aeronautical experience and instrument experience requirements as specified in part 61 or part 141. It is required under § 61.51(b)(1)(iv) that the type and identification of the ATD be included when logging pilot time as described in the letter of authorization (LOA)….

Note: There are no restrictions on the amount of training accomplished and logged in training devices. However, the regulatory limitations on maximum credit allowed for the minimum pilot certification requirements are specified by parts 61 and 141 and in the LOA. No approvals or authorizations are provided for aircraft type ratings using ATDs.

New Simulation and Training Rules Due in June 2018

The final rule is set for publication on June 27, 2018 (see this notice at the Federal Register). I’ll provide a summary here at BruceAir.

You can read more about the NPRM published in May 2016 at my blog, here.

ForeFlight Plugin for FSX, Prepar3D

Flight1 Aviation Technologies, a major add-on developer for the Microsoft Flight Simulator series, is offering a free plugin for FSX and Prepar3D. Details and download information here.

Our ForeFlight Plug-in sends GPS, AHRS, and Traffic data from Lockheed Martin® Prepar3D™ or Microsoft® Flight Simulator X to ForeFlight on your iPad or iPhone.

ForeFlight uses that data just as it would use data coming from a real GPS or ADS-B device. You can use ForeFlight with the simulator just like you would in an airplane, including the GPS, ADS-B Traffic, and Attitude Indicator features.

According to Flight1:

Once the connection is made, you’ll be able to:

  • Practice using ForeFlight while you’re aviating, navigating, and communicating within the simulated world.
  • Master using ForeFlight during VFR and IFR flights between any airports anywhere in the world, in any season, in any weather conditions, at any time of day or night.
  • Learn to use ForeFlight features you might never have the opportunity to explore during a real flight in a real airplane.
  • Build proficiency flying unfamiliar routes and procedures by “pre-flying” them using the flight simulation and ForeFlight.
  • Practice using ForeFlight to perform route modifications and other potentially distracting tasks.
  • Train using scenarios you could otherwise only complete in a real airplane (or via “chair flying” using your imagination).

Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition

Microsoft shut down development of the long-running Flight Simulator franchise in 2009 (details here). But the simulation lives on through an agreement with Dovetail Games that allows that company to release FSX on its online Steam platform (see this item from July 2014).

Dovetail released the Steam edition this month, and the company has opened a discussion board to answer questions about the product. That online forum is the best source for details about this release of FSX and the company’s plans for future development.

If you own the disc-based version of FSX and have questions about the new online product, you should start at this page. Here’s Dovetails’s answer to the most common question about what’s new about this version:

We have made some functional changes to FSX in the development of FSX: Steam Edition, but in terms of content nothing new has been added at this time…

This is a re-release of FSX Gold Edition so you should not expect dramatic differences. However, we have updated it to include all standard Steam functionality, we’ve removed CD checking and combined the components of Gold Edition into a single installation. The major change we’ve made is in replacing the now-defunct GameSpy multiplayer systems with Steam features, enabling multiplayer to work seamlessly once again. Our aim in this first instance has been to ensure that the software will run for as many people as possible rather than radically improving or updating it.

You can find a log of significant changes that Dovetail made to the FSX code here.

The company’s discussion board is also the best source for information about add-ons, hardware compatibility, and related questions.

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.

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

Endorsement from Rod Machado

Rod Machado writes a monthly column for AOPA Pilot magazine. The May 2014 edition, which discusses using simulation to reduce training costs, includes this comment about my book (thanks, Rod):

Your first purchase should be a book that will give you the intimate details of simulator operations. Without a doubt, one of the best on the market is Bruce Williams’s Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator.

New FAA Policy on Flight and Aviation Training Devices

On January 2, 2014, the FAA published a Notice of Policy Change for the Use of FAA Approved Training Devices in the Federal Register. The change, issued without consulting the aviation training community, will make it harder for instructors and flight schools to use ATDs. In the words of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators:

“FAA officials, understanding the value of simulators in flight training, have been issuing these LOAs since 1980,” said [executive director Doug] Stewart.  “This proposed policy change will take away much of the incentive for pilots to improve their skills in a better classroom than a noisy cockpit.”

I have prepared my own comments on the new policy, which you can read below.

Federal Aviation Administration
AFS-810, Airmen Certification and Training Branch
800 Independence Ave. SW. Washington, DC 20591

RE: Agency/Docket Number: FAA-2013-0809 / Document Number: 2013-31094.


I am disappointed to learn of the “Notice of Policy Change for the Use of FAA Approved Training Devices” published in the Federal Register on January 2, 2014 (Agency/Docket Number: FAA-2013-0809 / Document Number: 2013-31094).The change, announced without consulting the flight training community, represents a step backward in encouraging and broadening the use of interactive tools that help pilots safely and efficiently learn critical concepts, develop fundamental skills, and maintain proficiency during initial training and throughout their flying careers.

The new policy also runs counter to several of FAA’s own initiatives, from the approval of aviation training devices (ATD) to the emphasis on scenario-based training, both in FITS-oriented programs and in the latest editions of the practical test standards, which emphasize aeronautical decision making, resource management, and related skills that are ideally suited for introduction and practice in training devices. Indeed, FAA-accepted FITS syllabi all emphasize the use of training devices from lesson one.

To quote from my latest book about the use of PC-based flight simulations to complement flight training:

FAA-Industry Training Standards (FITS) is a joint initiative between the aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration:

  • To make pilot training more relevant as technology rapidly transforms aircraft cockpits, and
  • To help flight instructors use new tools (especially simulation) and teaching methods to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of flight instruction…

The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of aviation accidents and incidents by emphasizing and addressing the perennial cause of most crashes—pilot error.

The FITS approach includes several key components:

  • Scenario-Based Training (SBT)
  • Extensive use of simulation
  • Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM)
  • Risk Management

Often overlooked amid the jargon, however, is an important and beneficial side effect of scenario-based training [complemented extensively with simulation]—it makes learning to fly…more interesting, challenging, and fun. In other words, SBT creates “adventures for learning” that:

  • Give you realistic reasons—missions—to fly
  • Present real-world challenges such as changing weather, equipment malfunctions, pressures from passengers, and other unexpected circumstances, that pilots must handle even on routine flights
  • Help you measure your progress against specific goals
  • In short, FITS focuses on teaching you to think like a pilot.

All of those goals are best addressed by using a combination of tools and resources—including and especially simulation—during training.

The Aviation Instructor’s Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9A), while not specifically addressing flight simulation, emphasizes the value of interactive technologies (see, for example, “Instructional Aids and Training Technologies” in Chapter 4, “The Teaching Process”). The GA flight-training industry, airline, and military flight training programs all make extensive use of simulation, including part-task trainers and training devices (even those not specifically approved by FAA), because these tools have proven their value.

The new policy is also at odds with FAA’s description of ATD in AC 61-136, FAA Approval of Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD). That document describes a BATD as:

…a training platform for at least the procedural aspects of flight relating to an integrated ground and flight instrument training curriculum.

According to the same AC, 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.

Note that both of those descriptions emphasize “integrated ground and flight instruction” and “procedural and operational tasks.” ATDs are deliberately named Aviation Training Devices (not simulators) because the primary goal in using them isn’t to hone stick-and-rudder skills in a specific make and model of aircraft. Instead, as noted above, they are tools that help aviators, throughout their training, think like pilots.

The policy change is apparently an attempt to update FAA guidance with respect to the rapidly developing technology of flight simulation. But focusing on details such as display refresh rates and latency (in milliseconds) and the form of the physical controls for a simulation also runs counter to FAA’s own standards for ATDs and various levels of FTD.
For example, the standards in AC 61-136 note that:

(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. An air data-handling package is not required for determination of forces to simulate during the manufacturing process.

(2) 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 or family of aircraft being represented.

As AC 61-136 also notes:

The GA community is using this evolving simulation technology to provide increasingly effective training capabilities at reduced cost…FAA has determined that instructors can successfully teach procedural understanding of certain flight tasks during training using the flight simulation devices described in this AC.

FAA has presented no evidence that the current system of LOAs and technical standards for ATDs and FTDs has led to significant issues in training or proficiency because the devices themselves are somehow technically deficient, obsolete, or poorly maintained. Indeed, competition and innovation in the industry continues to drive the introduction of improved and more capable training devices.

ATDs and FTDs have proven their value in training. They make it possible—safely, efficiently, and economically—to:

  • Introduce new concepts and skills
  • Help students overcome learning plateaus and maintain proficiency
  • Allow trainees and instructors to explore realistic scenarios that may be impractical or unsafe in an aircraft.

Policy changes that discourage the use of training devices by making compliance and approval needlessly expensive and time-consuming (both for the industry and overworked FAA inspectors) run counter to FAA’s laudable goal of reducing accident rates, pilot deviations, and related issues. FAA should promote—not encumber—the use of ATDs and FTDs and, as always, rely on the professionalism of flight instructors, training providers, and the network of DPEs to ensure that pilots earning new certificates and ratings are prepared to be aviators.

Bruce Williams
Certified Flight Instructor
FAASTeam Representative Seattle, WA

Author of:
Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator (Wiley & Sons, 2012; ISBN 978-1-1181-0502-3)
Microsoft® Flight Simulator as a Training Aid: A Guide for Pilots, Instructors, and Virtual Aviators (ASA, revised 2013, ISBN 978-1-61954-049-1)