Visit to Flight Simulation Okinawa

I recently returned from a visit to Flight Simulation Okinawa, a new Japanese company that offers pilots training in FTDs and gives the general public opportunities to experience the thrill of flying a simulated aircraftt. I was there to help explain the value of PC-based simulations to local pilots, including members of the flying club at Kadena AFB.

My presentations were based on my two books about using PC-based flight simulations, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations based on FAA and Industry Training Standards and  Microsoft® Flight Simulator as a Training Aid: A Guide for Pilots, Instructors, and Virtual Aviators.


You can watch short video clips of the interviews here and on my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.

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.

Q&A About Scenario-Based Training in the General Aviation News

You can read a Q&A with me about Scenario-Based Training in the March 23, 2012 issue of the General Aviation News.

To see the discussion as it appears in the print edition, follow this link and go to page 16. Or you can read a basic version here.

New Practical Test Standards Emphasize Scenarios and ADM

The FAA has published new practical test standards (PTS) for the private pilot and commercial pilot certificates (the new standards become effective on 1 June 2012). As I noted in an earlier blog post, the rewritten criteria emphasize the use of scenarios instead of a series of individual tasks, and the examiner must evaluate “the applicant’s risk management in making safe aeronautical decisions.”

The FAA describes this important change in emphasis this way:

The examiner shall evaluate the applicant’s ability throughout the practical test to use good aeronautical decision-making procedures in order to evaluate risks. The examiner shall accomplish this requirement by developing a scenario that incorporates as many Tasks as possible to evaluate the applicant’s risk management in making safe aeronautical decisions. For example, the examiner may develop a scenario that incorporates weather decisions and performance planning.

The applicant’s ability to utilize all the assets available in making a risk analysis to determine the safest course of action is essential for satisfactory performance. The scenario should be realistic and within the capabilities of the aircraft used for the practical test.

Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) is defined as the art and science of managing all the resources (both onboard the aircraft and from outside sources) available to a single-pilot (prior and during flight) to ensure that the successful outcome of the flight is never in doubt. SRM available resources can include human resources, hardware, and information. Human resources “…includes all other groups routinely working with the pilot who are involved in decisions that are required to operate a flight safely. These groups include, but are not limited to: dispatchers, weather briefers, maintenance personnel, and air traffic controllers.” SRM is a set of skill competencies that must be evident in all Tasks in this practical test standard as applied to single-pilot operation. (FAA-S-8081-14B, pp. 12-13)

The emphasis on scenario-based training and aeronautical decision making complements the underlying themes of my new book, Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations based on FAA and Industry Training Standards. Even if you don’t use a PC-based simulation, you may find background information about SBT, FITS, and ADM helpful; the scenarios (30 for the private pilot syllabus, plus 18 in the IFR syllabus) may help you understand the key concepts and develop your own training challenges.

New Editions of the Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot PTS

The FAA has published new editions of the practical test standards for the private pilot and commercial pilot certificates. You can download the PDF versions here.

The new standards become effective on 1 June 2012. If you’re training for one of these certificates and expect to take the practical test this summer, you should review the new standards carefully with your instructor.

In particular, the new PTS reflect the FAA’s emphasis on aeronautical decision making and the use of scenarios in training and pilot evaluations. For more information about these topics, see the Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2) [PDF], the training guide that describes ADM concepts in detail. You should also review the resources about scenario-based training at the FITS website.

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.

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.

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.

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.