AIN Blog: Why So Much Simulation?

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Pilot Mall panel
Pilot Mall's new flight simulator panel and controls.
April 9, 2013 - 12:31pm

Why all the growing interest in low-cost flight simulators?

Some announcements at this week’s Sun ‘n Fun show in Lakeland, Fla., for example, underscore wannabe and regular pilots’ fascination with these devices. Redbird Flight Simulations introduced its new low-cost Jay device, which, while it can’t be used to log time, promises to help pilots stay proficient. And Pilot Mall today unveiled the Advanced Panel, which is a modular instrument panel with flight and other controls that works with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) software.

X-Plane simulator software and FSX have built up huge followings, and software developers have created detailed regional and airport graphics and precisely modeled software that replicates in mind-numbing detail an incredible variety of popular and obscure aircraft. You can practically start and run a virtual airline, fly under the direction of live air traffic controllers and learn how to use the latest avionics with these programs, including a unique head-up display plug-in that a company called FlyRealHUDS.com developed for X-Plane. And iPad apps ForeFlight Mobile and WingX Pro7 can run on X-Plane and many other apps as well can run on FSX with simulated position shown on the iPad moving map.

It’s almost as though there’s no need to fly a real airplane anymore.

And that’s why these programs are so popular. The cost of flying real airplanes has outgrown the budgets of many a pilot and remains a huge obstacle to new pilots. So if they can have 90 percent of the fun of flying with a simulator that runs on computer equipment that they already have, that’s what they’re going to do. And that is what they are doing.

You can’t blame the simulator manufacturers and software developers for catering to this market. After all, many of their products are used, like Redbird’s full-motion low-cost simulators, to make real flight training far more efficient. And airline and business aviation flying wouldn’t be nearly as safe today were it not for the advent of training providers such as FlightSafety International, CAE SimuFlite, SimCom and others. Certainly X-Plane and FSX are used by pilots to maintain proficiency or practice an approach to a new or challenging airport.

But it is kind of sad to think of someone who could be out in the sunshine, climbing into a cockpit and slipping the surly bonds for real instead firing up the personal computer and harnessing the electronic magic for a simulated jaunt in the comfort of home.

Maybe flight schools could figure out a way to insert ads into some of the simulator software, as a way to attract new business and get existing clients out to the airport. Something like: “Shoot this ILS successfully and get a discount on your next rental.” 

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ROBERT IHLE
on April 10, 2013 - 2:45pm

Keep marketing out of Sims . Marketing has already ruined this country , they don't need in everyone's business .

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Monty
on April 10, 2013 - 2:52pm

YOU MUST BE OUT OF YOUR EVER LOVING MIND!

T even hint at the thought of adds beings inserted into simulator flight, which we PAY for using real money is as absurd as the thought of inviting monkeys to attend church.

Of course the aviation community is turning to simulator flight more and more. It is a welcome way to do the things you mentioned in the article and saves a lot of money in the process, not to mention the safety of practice without any risk of damage or injury.

For those who can not find the funds to fly, leave them alone to do the next best alternative. Spend your time finding ways to convince the aviation giants to start cutting cost and make flying a really affordable past time. Something available to common folks with an interest in aviation.

It is no wonder to me that the government is looking at imposing user fees on air travel ($100.00 per flight). The aviation industry and the F.A.A. have been working in concert to keep expenses as costly as allowable for years in aviation. All of this supported by the very organization which claims to support aviation, the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association.

I say Mr. Rich and Mighty flaunt your wealth and keep those planes under your roof while you pay from your pocket to take them out to show them off, along with all your supposed highly educated skills as pilots. What you seem to forget is that many who do not have the money to afford the pleasures you do are as capable as you to fly with style and safety.

I will leave this as is before I began to get really angry at the thought of adds in simulators!

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Monty
on April 10, 2013 - 3:28pm

I could not contain myself with my thoughts so I havd to come back and add some justification to my comments above, but I will keep it brief.

If anyone thinks the aviation industry is not one solely intent on generating as much profit as possible conside this.

Headsets for pilots selling at over $1000.00 when those headset are not worth more than $150.00 to $200.00 at best. They are nothing more than small speakers and noise canceling microphones with a tiny bit of electronics, all of which are very common these days. Nothing new here to demand such a high price tag.

In flight Cameras, protable air cooling (ice chest with a fan), flashlights, the list goes on and on of items with high price tags that are virtually valueless.

So why do pilots, aviation orginazations, and publications complain all the time about the cost of flying? Are those very folks not the ones who have supported the high fees and cost associated with flight over the years. Even our government is so entrenched with the aviation industry that congress and the F.A.A. work daily to keep flight cost as high as they can. All of this makes no since to me when everyone who flys cries about the decline in general aviation and the need to build it along with new pilots up. They all have their thoughts misplaced and should be crying about the cost of aviation and rallying the troups to support removing those from power who have supported such high cost in the industry. Then we might see an upturn in new pilots and see an old industry finally begin to take off for the masses instead of the wealthy few.

This is why this writer likes the idea of reducing control towered airports, trimming the F.A.A. down to something more akin to a state D.M.V. agency, and getting rid of so much of the legislation and rules that inflate the cost of flying. There is no need for the world to be so mindlessly greedy as it is.

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DC
on April 11, 2013 - 3:04am

One reason aviation is so expensive? Idiots who should have know better sueing manufacturers for idiotic errors...Who ultimately wins?

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Michael Townsend
on April 11, 2013 - 2:12pm

I have been using MS FlightSim since it first started under Bruce Artwick in the 1980's as a CFI for my students. The program is very sophisticated, especially with addon vendors who have made incredible graphics and aircraft. Take a look at PMDG's products or Just Flight, these aircraft fly identical to the actual aircraft with full system and avionics just as the real aircaft. Full motion sims are great and have fantastic training value (even though motion is highly overrated) but PC simulators in many instances are just as good and several are superior to them (I should know I was a simulator instructor for 10 years at the largest company in the world that has full motion sims). My B737 PC sim is better than the full motion one I flew for several years. The visual graphics far outstrip even the newest Level D sim I flew which could go to perhaps 10 airports total. My PC sim can go anywhere in the world, has fantastic weather, ATC and photoreal visuals for a fraction of the cost of full size Level D. Sim training is about systems/avionics failures and all that can be done on PC aircraft as well. The flight fidelity is dead on to the actual aircraft as developers go to extraordinary lengths to work with the aircraft manufucturers. Many people build full size flight simulators of general, corprate and airline aircraft. Full size 737 simulators come in kit form and electric full motion can be added if one desires along with several other types of aircraft. Look at what British Airways does with PC flight sims for those wanting to be Speedbird pilots.
I have been a CFI/II/MEI since 1985 and have been a pilot since 1980. I have seen the cost of aviation skyrocket to unprecidented levels. Why does a C172 cost $600,000 new when in the 70's they were $35, 000? When I learned a C152 was $10 an hour and the CFI $12, min wage was $1.50 and I was able to get a PVT certificate without too much trouble making $1.75hr. Fuel was .55 a gallon! Most people I taught were middle income and college students and not a few in high school. Up until 1997 I had plenty of students (I worked in Utah) and the local flying club was really busy. Now students are rare at that same airport. I now live in Wichita, KS general aviation central. GA is nearlly dead here as it is in many parts of the country. In 1995 our 172 rented for $60hr wet, today it is nearly double that or more. I have nearly 9,000 hours CFI and 11,000 total and have flown 104 different aircraft over the years almost all GA piston, turboprop. I can tell you without reservation that I find PC flying more enjoyable, more educational than flying actual aircraft. I have PMDG's B-747-400 with all the aircraft manuals, checklists, etc and I fly all over the world in real time with real time weather. I can fail any system on the aircraft and have full nav just as the real aircraft. I have an interactive crew program in addition.
MicroSoft shutdown the entire Flightsim program not too long ago. There are so many vendors now that make special computers, programs, flight controlls that it is truelly amazing. Just look at PC Pilot magazine to see what is going on. There is a national flight sim convention here in Wichita the first weekend in May, check out AVSim.com and Flightsim.com. Flying in the sunshine is great but very expensive, with $100 hamburgers included, but for the price of that I can buy a B-737 sim and fly all over the planet and have just as much fun, learn even more, and have challenges and experience I will never get in just flying around for an hour or two in an actual aircraft. I still do fly an aluminum aircraft now and then and don't turn down chances to fly, but PC flying is a lot less expensive and there are no FAA to contend with. When people ask me about learning to fly, I tell them to get a PC flightsim program and I will teach them how to fly it.
The advertising comments were out of place, again see the two mentioned companies and magazine for that angle and the PC vendors. I suspect that PC flying has far more pilots than any other segement of aviation and from what I read just as dedicated and enthusiastic as any other group of pilots, with the costs rising I am sure the trend will only dramatically increase to where most pilots fly on a PC.
Michael Townsend ATP

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STEVE CAMPBELL
on April 12, 2013 - 3:29pm

I agree with Mike. One of my first students worked at McDonald's, but could afford to get his Private.
As a DPE I see the only major industry growth opportunity for student pilots coming from overseas, where aspiring pilots (except Europeans who now must get JAA certification) still consider the US the best deal with the most freedom on the planet - hope that lasts. If PC flight can alleviate the 80% drop out by better maximizing readiness and preparation for actual flight it's a no brainer. Flight computers should be further encouraged via increased intergration within training. I make this statement assuming FAA action, supported by scientific research (UAA and others) pans out and thus can be justified, thereby allocating more hour credits and task elements by way of creative use of PC/PCATD/FTD intergration with the PTS.
As an aside, many hungary CFIs may create business for themselves, as Mike has done, by teaching themselves and their students the "PC and Flight Experience.

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Greg W
on April 12, 2013 - 12:58pm

The cost of flying can be much lower than many expect it to be. The comment about the $1000.00 head set is an example of this. It is true that many will insist on the noise cancelling head set and yet a head set is not required to fly, they are nice, but not needed. Radio's are not required to fly! and if you want to get extremely inexpensive try an ultralight. I know many will say "that's not an airplane" well neither is a computer simulator! I have been flying since 1983 and have flown aircraft ranging from Beech 18's to ultralights, currently a non-electric 1946 Aeronca. This can be a hobby that costs about the same as many other motor-sports and if higher ratings are the goal the main requirement is total flight hours it does not much matter what those hours are in, as long as it is in a "real" airplane a part 103 ultralight will not count. For pure flight experience try an ultralight they are not better or worse just different. Buy one for 5-10K burn 3gal or so of car gas per hour and have fun, it will not be a X/C airplane but a dirt bike is not a Harley road king either and people sure like them still.

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