Webinar: Using PC-Based Simulations to Complement Flight Training

The webinar I presented earlier this week, “Using PC-Based Simulations to Complement Flight Training,” is now available as a video that you can stream from the EAA videos page.

The video isn’t high-def, and the webinar hosting software that EAA uses doesn’t support videos and animations, but the presentation does give you an overview of my thinking about where PC-based simulations like X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator fit in among the training and proficiency tools available to instructors and pilots. The presentation also describes how you can use PC-based simulations effectively as part of scenario-based training (SBT).

You can learn more about these topics in my new book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator, published in January 2012.

Webinar about Using PC-Based Simulations

I’m presenting in a webinar about “Using PC-Based Simulations to Complement Flight Training” on 21 March. The presentation focuses on common mistakes and misconceptions about using PC-based simulations in flight training, and it includes a few examples taken from my new book on the topic.

It’s an EAA-hosted event; you can register to attend here.

Interview about “Scenario-Based Training” on FlightTime Radio

I recently did an interview about my new book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator, on FlightTime Radio. You can download the mp3 audio podcast of the interview here.

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.

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.

X-Plane v. Microsoft Flight Simulator

I get a lot of questions about PC-based flight simulations, and the most common query is, “Which is better, X-Plane or Microsoft Flight Simulator?” My detailed answer is the subject of Chapter 5, “Choosing a PC-Based Simulation: X-Plane or FSX?” in my new book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations Based on FAA-Industry Training Standards.

You can download and read PDF versions of Chapter 5 and the table of contents for the book from one of my SkyDrive folders.

You need the free Adobe Reader (or its equivalent) to view the PDF files.

Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator

My new book about using PC-based simulations to complement flight training will be available in January 2012. If you’d like a sneak peak, you can download the table of contents, a sample chapter, and other content from the book’s page at Wiley’s website.

Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight: A Few More Details

The Microsoft Flight team released a bit more information about the successor to Microsoft Flight Simulator on 15 November. You can read the update here. It includes details about the hardware you’ll need to show off the snazzy new graphics.

It includes a teaser for “an exciting announcement” in December.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have answers–even hints, really–about what Microsoft Flight (the new product’s title doesn’t include simulator) is. Will it continue to re-create the entire world? Will it include navigation data, ATC, and other features essential to a simulation? What aircraft will be included? Will any add-ons created for Microsoft Flight Simulator work with the new “game”? So far, Microsoft isn’t saying.

PC-Based Training for New 787 Pilots

Here’s a feature from Wired about the process for training B787 pilots. Note especially the progression from PC-based training in cubicles to the use of full flight simulators.

It’s a point I often make when discussing the use of PC-based simulations like Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane in general-avaition flight training—and one of the core arguments in my forthcoming book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator. Regardless of what the regulations and advisory circulars say about flight training devices, many people obsess about flight models, physical switches and controls, and absolute fidelity when representing instrument panels. In doing so, they miss most of the value of integrating PC-based simulations in flight training.