Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Part 142 Flight Review

Why simulator training could save your life

In The Sim

From the classroom, we moved on to the simulator, a series of linked computers, projectors and a very large 15-foot-high wraparound screen that gives a 180-degree moving view from the mock cockpit of the shell of a Cirrus SR22 (which I'm told had once had an actual flying life as a real aircraft in Europe before becoming a simulator). Although I only have four hours in a Cirrus in the real world, from what I could tell, there's no difference from this mock-up in terms of feel and placement of controls and switches than a flying aircraft.

Burmeister is dogmatic about checklists. "All good pilots have a structure. This is where structure starts," he said, as we went through the checklist to fire the machine up. The first experience, taxiing, is a little bit nauseating. While "on the ground" objects, i.e. hangars and buildings, moved across the screen so fast and apparently so close that I had to close my eyes to compose myself. Each of the instructors told me that they've gotten sick by standing just to the right of the mock-up.

A couple of radio calls and a few more items on the checklist, and I was lined up on the runway 14R at Champaign/Urbana (CMI). I was cleared for takeoff, gave it full throttle, and by 75 knots, I was climbing. At this point, the nausea factor decreased significantly. Once "airborne" for all intents and purposes, this was an aircraft, and I had work to do. Like any introductory flight, the first tasks were level turns followed by climbing and descending turns just to get a feel of the aircraft.

The overpowering emotion of, "This feels real," was quickly surpassed by, "What do I have to do next to fly this aircraft better?" The thought that I was actually sitting on the ground and not really moving quickly dissipated. Everything directly in front of me, the Avidyne panel, Garmin 430s and all the back-up gauges were all reacting exactly as they do in my Columbia. As far as the exterior visuals go, I wasn't there to see the ground. I was there to be in the clouds—and I promptly was. Gray white looks the same in the virtual world as it does in the real world. Entering and retrieving data from the Garmins is exactly same in the simulator as the real world.

This experience had become a real flight lesson, and there were tasks to complete in order to pass the course. Time to learn new skills and strengthen old skills. Simulators are humbling, and I was humbled. This aircraft was designed and set to be overly sensitive. I over-corrected at pretty much every control input.

There are only two grades at RTC. A "C" means that you've completed the tasks and can advance to the next lesson. An "I" means incomplete, and you have to go back to the starting point or even an earlier lesson. When Burmeister told me that we were done with the first lesson and I was receiving a "C," I looked at my watch. Two hours had gone by. And here I thought that this had been the most exhausting 20 minutes of my life.


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