P3D to PPL: Using the Sim for your Real World License

P3d Ppl Getting Ready For The Real World

I wanted to sit down and discuss with you how I used my simulator during my private pilot training. These tips and explanations are in no certain order.

It’s no secret that becoming a pilot is expensive. Really expensive. My flight school estimated that earning a private pilot certificate through them (including ground school) would cost around $12,000 USD. That’s a lot! And for a high school student like myself, at the time, it wasn’t possible. But I was eventually able to get a job at a grocery store and that helped with lesson costs. However, more importantly, I did a lot of training on my own outside of a real plane and inside of a fictional plane at home. By using my sim in conjunction with routine flight lessons, I was able to save a few thousand dollars and take my checkride at the legal minimum hours. I want to point out that everyone is different with training. There is absolutely no guarantee when you will be ready for your checkride, and I dedicated every minute to it so I was able to progress faster than normal.

When it comes to using the sim, it’s all about using the right addons together. Unfortunately, the default sim won’t cut it if you really want to use it for your training. Although you cannot count any time in your home sim towards your certificate, you can use it to run through procedures and get an in-depth look at what everything looks like.

It’s all about using the right addons together

When using a flight sim to supplement training, you need to stay consistent. Pick a plane (preferably the plane you are training in) and stick with that plane. If you are in the advanced stages of training (like cross countries and solo flights), you need to be focused on how your plane operates. Learning Delta’s flow’s for a CRJ is cool, but you need to be focused on how a Cessna would perform with a 15-knot crosswind (good luck with that). I recommend investing in one of the small study level GA aircraft that are available. I’m thinking A2A’s 172 or Cherokee 180. These planes are expertly and realistically modeled and will help you get familiar with how your training plane will look like when you do your primary training.

A positive side to using a study-level trainer in the sim is that you can break it – intentionally! Your emergency training as a pilot is centered around the idea of safety. If something goes south in the plane, you need to be able to get it on the ground (without undue hazards to persons or property on the surface ;D). So take it up to 7,000 feet and cut the engine. How far can you really go? Or, turn off the battery in-flight and see what happens. Things like that can answer some of your questions about what can happen in your plane during an emergency.

The downside to using a study-level plane in your simulator is that sometimes you will train in something like a Cessna 172N (1977 model), but the software will be a rendition of a 172R model. Between those two models there can be differences. It’s not usually a big deal and should not affect anything, but just be aware the sim and your plane may not be the same cockpit layout.

Scenery and all the small things do matter!

On the topic of keeping consistent with what you operate and where you operate it, all of the small tools that are published for flight sims help a lot! Things like weather engines and texture colors, they all add to the super small details in your sim. More and more planes these days have a GPS in them, ones like the Garmin GTN 650 and GTN 750. If that’s the case, I would recommend that you get it for the sim too! That way you can fiddle with it on the ground for hours in the sim, and not have to pay for the time you spent with the battery on. And, when it comes to scenery, you don’t need to worry about buying every airport in the world, instead focus on getting regions for your area. I did my training in Northern California, and ORBX’s NorCal region was a godsend. Every visual landmark in real life is now in my sim, which allows me to practice cross-country flights using the visual way points I’d use for the real thing. Also, it has allowed me to become familiar with and explore my area without spending hours flying around, costing me hundreds of dollars.

Networks like IVAO and VATSIM are FREE – use them!

When you start your flight training, you may get ‘mic fright’ (especially if you train mainly at an uncontrolled airfield). The people in the tall towers have full authority over what you do on the ground, and you can’t move until they tell you that you can (for the most part). Asking to do things may seem intimidating, especially when asking to do something special or against their instruction. Networks like VATSIM and IVAO offer free air traffic control services for flight sim pilots. Not every controller is online at every airport, but when someone is online (and you’re in their jurisdiction), you will need to ask them to do things. Talking to them and practicing phraseology will help you a lot, so that while you’re on the real ramp, you aren’t wasting time rehearsing what to say with your instructor. Also I recommend you use your training plane’s tail number – it brings a very personal feel to the sim and ties it together nicely.

Another Thing to Keep in Mind

As awesome as the sim can be for real world training, there are some side effects from using it often. One thing is that the sim usually keeps our eyes inside the cockpit, which is the opposite of what you do during your private pilot training. You will be taught to keep your eyes outside and scanning for traffic and learning how to fly visually and not focusing entirely inside. But in the sim (since it’s not as realistic as the real thing) we naturally keep our eyes inside the cockpit. This may be better for instrument training, but not so much for the PPL.

Bringing it all together

I’ve discussed all the ways in which flight simulators and this community aided my adventure to my PPL. Soon, I will be off to the University of North Dakota to finish up my training and head off into the workforce. It’s important to keep in mind that with flight training, there are so many ways to go about it. You can stop and start at any point in your life (of course you may have to go back and repeat some items) but it’s truly an adventure! I have always known that I wanted to be a pilot, so I set out to find ways to gain the knowledge I needed in order to have a life in aviation. And now when it does come time to hit the books again, or take lessons for my next certificate, I have another means of training in my back pocket that doesn’t cost $140 / hour.

Tags : editorialFlight Training
Dmitri Scheidel

The author Dmitri Scheidel

I was raised around aviation since day one, living on multiple airports across California I naturally took a liking to the big loud things with the shiney spinners. I have been simming since FS98 and slowly worked my way through the versions, I now happily run P3D V4 on a rather powerful setup ; ). I am also a real life private pilot and certified ground school instrustor *at only 18 years old!* | View My Specs

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I’m surprised FSFlyingSchool hasn’t been mentioned so far. I use it to keep my simulatied flying as real as possible. Without it you can fall into bad habits that you’re not even aware of. I also like how it lots and rates my flight and points out areas to improve on.

Just my 2 cents.

Ken Goodpaster

As an instructor simulation is part of the whole training concept. Why spend hundreds of dollars and hours in the sky learning what can be taught on a computer. Most flight schools have a BATD (Basic Aviation Traning Device) available for this purpose. Many of the better schools will allow the use of this device without charge for current students.

That being stated, I would also recommend to students that have a desktop “simulator” use home practice based on lessons provided by a CFI to enhance learning. (I put simulator in quotes because despite popular belief our home devices are not simulators. There is only 1 type of simulator according to the FAA and the is the multimillion-dollar Full Flight Simulator (FFS.) It is a category of the Flight Training Device.)

Once you try a BATD you will notice that your home version is most likely better in a lot of respects. The FAA wanted to keep BATDs generic. They are not designed to be an actual representation of a specific aircraft. A training device is just that, a device or a tool. No matter how good the device it can never 100% replicate actual flight. Which is why the FAA continues to insist on actual flight training. I spend a good portion of my time in the backend of FFS and I can promise that even the high-end devices are close, but not really flying.

With that in mind, I would not necessarily recommend going overboard with high-end add-ons. Sure an A2A airplane might be nice but is the airplane you are training in equipped exactly like A2A’s variation. I highly doubt it. As for avionics, Garmin has some great trainers that will allow you to learn their products. I have seen a few companies provide high-quality avionics add-ons, but most don’t come close. The last thing you or your CFI wants is for you to have negative habit transfer from stuff that is not right. Then we have to untrain and retrain you. I’d rather just a basic representation like you would get in most BATDs. That also goes double for systems. Following an Abnormal or Emergency procedure to be presented with incorrect representation it not helpful. If presented first in the simulator then I am also having to fight primacy (things presented first are remembered best.) That means more time in the cockpit unlearning bad behaviors.

Where I find the simulator good at is procedures. Starting engines, runups, checklist operations, etc. Moving on to instruments you can also improve your scan. I often find people who practice their scan on a simulator to be better especially when moving to a TAA (Technically Advanced Aircraft) like a G1000 equipped airplane. I am not so sure about practicing a cross-country flight. VFR is VFR and even the best scenery is going to have differences. If you keep to major landmarks it will probably work out. Also, remember your airports are most likely to be way out of date. There are few options for many of the small fields that light airplanes fly into.

Control feel is out. I don’t care how many thousands of dollars you have spent on ‘high’ quality controls. Training on FFS I know exactly what it takes to get close and most don’t have that sort of money.

When it comes to desktop simulation I am a strong proponent of its use and integration in modern flight training. Let’s face it you can’t make money for flight training by washing airplanes anymore. Well, I guess you could, but you would have to wash a lot more airplanes. But, like anything it needs to be in a controlled manner. You can do just as much harm as good.

Well written and well explained. Welcome to the crazy world of aviators … with one warning: once you flew your own aircraft, life is NEVER the same again. The yearning to get back in the sky will never leave you. The smell of jet fuel will wake you up at night. You will even pre-check your car and drive wheel spread over the white line when there is no other traffic. My only advise: never take the privilege for granted; never get cocky; never think you’ve tamed the art of flying. Stay humble. ALWAYS do you checklists. From now on you’re allowed to smile for no reason, no reason at all.

I agree. But for those who have climbed the mountaintop; you will get to the place where you realize , if you’re a professional pilot, that it’s a*job*. You won’t believe it when you start flying, you will think those who don’t share your passion are cynical(p (and maybe we/they are). But this is the time to enjoy every second, like your youth…your first x-wing slip/skid landing, the views, the freedom, flying when you want to (or can afford to) – not when you have to. It’s like high school and college. When this was explained to me in my transition from MSFS Version II (on floppy) by my monitors in the 1990s I thought they were crazy…until I understood. There’s nothing like flying, seeing our beautiful planet in ways most mortals would dream of, but there does come a time when you’re flying over the holidays, when you’d rather be home with friends/family (but you’re flying), when you’re sitting in an FBO, crew lounge etc that it will ring true, he. It’s how you make money…that things can change. Enjoy your time, enjoy your dream coming true. Never forget where you’ve come from….cherish these times….I hope they last as long as you fly.

Well said. This is what airmanship means.

I suggest a wonderful book by Tony Kern: Redefining Airmanship.

“One thing is that the sim usually keeps our eyes inside the cockpit, which is the opposite of what you do during your private pilot training.”

This can’t be stressed enough. I’ve had a number of primary students who suffered from this. It was obvious they used the sim (were fairly knowledgeable with systems, using radios (NAV/COM), GPS, etc). However, where using the sim hurt them was trying to teach sight picture. I usually had to do a few flights covering up all the instruments to break them of the heads-down attitude.

Now, for Instrument training… A properly setup sim using a service like IVAO/VATSIM/PE… is worth it’s weight in gold.

Great read! I want to underline what the author said about the side effect of keeping the eyes inside the cockpit. That is true and a hard habit to break once you move from FS to real life VFR flying. My way of trying to break it was following an advice from the Flight Training magazine: to keep a constant flow in my head of what I should be doing while enroute: keep doing the LIFE scan: L stands for Location/Lookout, I for instruments, F for fuel and E for engine. Scan the sky/surroundings from left to right, taking your time and enjoying the view, confirm where you are and where you expect to be next, then do a quick of the panel: instruments (airspeed, heading, altitude), fuel tanks and engine oil and temp. Then go back outside.

While maneuvering (setting speeds, bank angle), it’s the line between the horizon and windshield that guides us, checked from time to time with the artificial horizon. It’s not the artificial horizon. Why? Because the natural horizon is more sensitive, you need larger changes to show up in the artificial horizon. Also, keeping the eyes out is safer – VFR you’re required to scan for traffic all the time and there WILL come a day when you realize you really need to!

Another FS induced problem I faced was what my instructor called “pilot induced turbulence”. He pointed out how while on approach I kept giving significant inputs to the yoke that were unnecessary (rapid and significant control inputs that kept balancing each other out). Because I would fly in FS with a highly sensitive yoke I got the habit of having to make constant attitude corrections in order to adjust my attitude. By seeing me doing that he immediately guessed I was a simmer. He showed me how it was possible to fly an approach to land with minimum yoke movements (in stable air conditions of course) and that was a real eye opener. Check how your hand behaves on approach. If it keeps moving the yoke in all axes, you might be over controlling it. The idea is to not move the yoke unless necessary and when doing so, do it gently.

I would add it makes a huge difference in how your controls are positioned to your body. Just about every light single allows you to fly with your forearm resting on your knee, gripping the yoke or stick with thumb and forefinger and making wrist movements only. When I changed my stick position relative to my computer (putting it between my knees just like the Samba XL I was training in), my instructor immediately noticed the difference in my performance and was extremely pleased that I had figured it out without him having to tell me.