Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Part 142 Flight Review

Why simulator training could save your life

The Benefits

The central advantages to simulator training are obvious. Fuel (100LL) has quadrupled in price since I did my basic instrument training. There's no "reset" or even a "freeze" button in a real aircraft. A student can do and re-do the same approach over and over again until they get it right, all with the push of a button—all while practicing the sequences and building muscle memory of the flow of his/her aircraft. In my airplane, I'm constantly worried about shock-cooling my engine. Hence, I'd never allow for the rapid power changes required for proper training in engine-out scenarios.

And let's be honest. Planes get banged up in training. Accidents do happen. There's no way for a student to break an airplane in a simulator. Consequently, there will be no repair bills for the student to pay. And the FAA has never once been called in to investigate the crash of a virtual aircraft.

A proper instrument scan is the foundation to all instrument flying. Every pilot you know is capable of fixating on a single instrument. The only way to break that tendency is proper training and continued practice. Simulators are the single best place to develop and improve a scan. First, because a student is never really in danger. According to the FAA's Aviation Instructor's Handbook, on pages 1-7: "The element of threat doesn't promote effective learning. In fact, fear adversely affects perception by narrowing the perceptual field." You're not as likely to fixate in a simulator because in the back of your mind, you know that you're going to survive so you can be free to develop a scan that moves from one instrument to the next. Second, because of what's called the Law of Primacy (meaning whatever you learn first has the strongest imprint on your brain), when in danger, all pilots will return to the skills taught in their original basic instruction. In plain English, when everything turns to crap, no matter who you are, you'll revert to the pilot you were in training. Learn the scan right the first time. And the best place to learn and develop a life-saving scan is in a simulator.
The advantages to simulator training are obvious. fuel has quadrupled in price since I did my basic instrument training. There's no "reset" or "freeze" button in real aircraft. A student can do and re-do the same approach until they get it right.
Simulators can fail systems and train you for emergencies that wouldn't be practical or safe to train for in the real world. For example, one scenario that RTC sprung on me was a catastrophic elevator failure. I was able to successfully land the aircraft with only the throttle and rudder. Now granted, this is a rather unlikely failure. But I personally have had a rudder cable snap on me in a Piper. Should anything similar happen in my Columbia, I now have the confidence that if I keep my wits, I can survive this situation by controlling pitch with throttle only.

There's an old adage that says, "The only way to develop good judgment in aviation is to survive the experience of having had made bad judgment." Simulators afford you the luxury of surviving bad judgment. All but one of the times I crashed at RTC came down to the exact same mistake. I was flying in instrument conditions with a failed autopilot. I could handle the situation and emergencies like a trooper right up until the point where I had to divert my focus from the instrument panel to look up information on the charts or approach plates. The main thing this simulator experience taught me is that if the S-Tec 55 autopilot in my Columbia ever breaks, I now have a VFR-only aircraft until a trip to the mechanic's hanger. It's plausible that bit of information may someday save my life.


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