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Flight Simulator  vs. real flight
How realistic is FSX and other modern flight simulators?
Here we compare real flying to what you can experience with a simulator.
Flight simulators are only training devices but you can get huge benefits if you understand
their limits and advantages.   Many people who "fly" in simulators never actually have flown a real aircraft.
There are some important things to know.

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Real aircraft

Simulator

Movements

   A real aircraft moves in 3 dimensions, unlike in a car where you only use 2 dimensions.   A real aircraft will bounce around, sometimes dramatically and suddenly, both up and down and side to side because of wind turbulence.   That you can't get in a simulator, of course.

     Flying skill depends on training your psycho-motor skills and you have a limited range of motor skill use in a simulator.     Flying requires constant attention and good decision making skills, so when you use a simulator for training try to "fly" without distractions, pauses, or using external views.    Good sound systems add to the realism.

 

           While your body can't move around in a simulator, there are things you can do that will help grasp the full nature of flying.   First,  set up the simulator for highest realism settings, and real or customized weather.   Try setting the weather for higher winds.   Your simulated aircraft will move about on screen, and you will have to respond quickly and carefully or you will crash.

        I find it useful to pay attention to what is happening to my body when I drive a car, for example.   There are many movements you do while driving that are similar to flying.  For example, you use your feet, hands, you reach for controls on a panel, and you have to adjust for traffic, make observations, deal with limited visibility, and adjust to various kinds of motion.

Instruments
  Simulated aircraft sometimes have different cockpit layouts than their real counterparts.   Also, the gauges in sim planes may look a bit different.    In many cases, the simulated aircraft, especially in complicated ones,  do not have all the working switches, or they may be in different positions on the panel.

       Simulators are excellent tools for learning how to use aircraft instruments.    You can use real charts, and dial in navigation beacons on simulated guages that actually work.   Even the FAA allows for use of approved simulators to log time.    When you are using a simulator, learn about the various gauges by reading textbooks, watching videos.    Then apply what you know to the simulated flights.

   Navigation

       Navigation in a real airplane can be done in a number of ways.   Back in the old days, pilots flew along roads or railway lines or other landmarks.    That was tough, but some pilots became really good at it.   Then came the NDB's ( non-directional beacons ), VOR's, and ultimately GPS.   Unless you fly often and all over the place, your opportunity to learn navigation is limited to where you fly.  For most pilots, that means the local or regional area, or the routes they are assigned if they do commercial flights.

  In a simulator you can "fly" all over the world and try all kinds of terrain.    Microsoft Flight Simulator has excellent terrain mapping plus you can get amazing add-on scenery that in some cases is photo-realistic with amazing detail.   The mountains and lakes and oceans are all in the right places, so you can "fly" by "dead reckoning" or use a variety of instrument navigation techniques including GPS.

   If you "fly" in a simulator, be sure to try everything, "dead reckoning, NDB, VOR, and GPS.    Be sure to try IFR flight too.

 

  Flight planning
  Planning a flight is something every pilot needs to learn.   If you are flying VFR it's usually a good idea to have a plan, but for IFR it's required.   

   In a simulator you can file a plan using the built in software, and you will have to communicate with ATC ( air traffic control ) to complete your flight successfully, especially in bad weather or at night.   This is very good practice for real flying.
click on photos below for larger views Download some new planes.     One place I like is www.simviation.com   but there are many sites.

 

Light sport aircraft


Ready for night takeoff


   Things to get for your setup:

** A flight school textbook, and videos, to help you learn about flying.
**  Yoke control -- much better than a mouse, and new ones have many buttons and switches
**  Pedals --  like real planes, to control yaw
**Real flight charts --  sometimes you can find pilots selling older ones for cheap on eBay.
**Pilot rulers and protractors, for calculating distance, heading, and course on your charts
**Map of the world, or country, to plot and record your "flights"
**A large monitor screen for realistic view.   A second screen is a wonderful addition, too.
**Pens and paper, for taking notes about nav and com frequencies and weather data.
**Aircraft operational specifications, speed, cruise, weight, ceiling, stall speeds, etc.  
         Google the plane you're "flying", and you'll find loads of information about your aircraft that will help you fly it  more effectively.
 

       

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