Time is flying. And flying is time.
I’ve spent three weeks doing basic instrument flying in the simulator. I thought I would hate it. Really. What could you possibly enjoy about playing a hyped up computer game?
“I can do that at home right?”
“How hard could it be?”
“It’s not real flying”
“will I remember how to land the aeroplane again?”
“Tell me again why I have to know how to fly on instruments?”
I was…. WRONG. The simulator is really good. OK, it isn’t a full motion sim. But it is a LOT more immersive and believable than I would have guessed. My flight school has 2 simulators. The first is a Cirrus sim – can be set either as an SR20 or an SR22. The second is a hybrid sim – steam gauge, traditional style NAV/COM/ADF and a basic AP – it can simulate either a PA28(Piper Archer or Cherokee type with or without retractable gear) or a Seneca twin. I’ve done an hour on the Cirrus sim and 2.3 on the PA28R version of the sim.
One of the biggest killers of pilots is inadvertent flight into IMC. I forget the actual number but on average it takes very few seconds to lose your spatial awareness and spiral out of the clouds out of control. Or fly into a granite cloud. And while most of the CFIT(Controlled Flight into Terrain) incidents seem worryingly obvious when reading accident reports, people are still crashing into mountains with monotonous regularity. As one wag put it… “there are no new ways to crash aeroplanes” So it does make at least SOME sense to have some inkling of what the instruments are telling you.
The sims run X-plane (sadly only version 9) on a bank of computers. Both have very realistic cockpit setups – the cirrus sim faithfully replicates the Cirrus cabin while the PA28 sim has a full panel mockup with screens behind – so the “steam gauges” are actually on a computer screen. Still – its pretty realistic, although I simply refuse to believe that a PA28 is so responsive (read over-responsive and dynamically unstable) in pitch. However it is what it is and once used to the millimetre movements required it is pretty easy to fly.
Which is just as well – because there are no visual cues here. Cloud bases in the sim seem glued to about 300′ AGL. (Coincidence? I think not) The nett result is that as you’re doing after takeoff checks, cleaning up the aircraft you fly straight into hard IMC. (And then crash and burn – according to the instructors this is quite common) It seems my misspent youth flying PC flight sims has paid off again – I’m quite comfortable on the instruments – I even have a reasonable scan going which is helpful. Of course, there is no movement, no movement induced illusions and I’m certain in real life it is MUCH harder. There is no pause button in real life either.
The hardest part for me is maintaining level flight while fiddling with the instruments. Leaning over to hit a stopwatch, adjusting the HSI, setting the autopilot – all can be associated with a degree of departure from level flight. Task saturation came very quickly on my first session but less rapidly on the second and third.
And actually…. It’s a LOT of fun. We’ve done radial intercepts in and outbound, ADF direct to and ‘radial’ intercepts, timed turns, GPS intercepts, ILS approaches and VOR approaches. Today my instructor failed every instrument simultaneously except the VSI. Then she failed everything except the HSI and Turn coordinator. And we didn’t crash!
I’ve spent some time messing around on my X-plane sim at home doing pure instrument stuff – and I’ve discovered that you can download an instructor station for the iPad – going to spend some more time working with failed systems. <2h to go in the sim then it’s time for Navigation briefings and the cross country flights. It’s getting close.
Also, I noticed that today’s sim session took me to 50hours total time.