Like most hobbyist aviators, finding the funds to pay for all the instruction and flight time needed can be difficult. A good shortcut for most people is the use of flight simulators to assist with portions of their training; this saves time, money, and is usually quite convenient. However, flight simulator training is in no way a replacement for actual, up-in-the-air experience, as I would soon find out.
When I first began training, I quickly made friends with another novice aviator, also right at the beginning of his career, who could never feel comfortable in the simulators. For whatever reason, he just felt strange in there, and preferred to do all his training with live instructors on actual planes.
I wasn’t quite as well off financially as my new friend, and was forced to begin looking into the use of simulators to augment my training before I had my first dozen hours logged. Consequently, when we compared notes on flying and discussed areas we were having difficulty with, some differences emerged that proved pretty amusing. Here are some of the main differences we noted, that we attributed to my usage of flight simulators and his abstention:
Real Planes Have Physical Feedback – And virtual ones don’t. While this is of course common sense, unless you yourself trained primarily on simulators prior to piloting a real plane, it is hard to imagine the impact this can have on your performance. You can’t feel the tires on the runway, turbulence, the air over the wings, or any of the other very important physical indicators that can help pilots make subtle adjustments.
Sims Help Instill Light Hands – As I learned from my instructors (and repeatedly crashed my plane in simulators), I found out about the importance of being light on the controls, and how making exaggerated or large movements in a real plane could be deadly. According to our instructors, my friend took a lot longer to conquer this issue than I did, probably because I could push the (virtual) equipment to its limits to more easily explore the control range.
Not All Flight Simulators Are Created Equal – Logging time in certified simulators is expensive as well, so I tried to jury-rig a setup at my home that would enable me to practice certain things (this is actually how I learned to fly with light hands). However, I initially didn’t have a yoke and pedals; oops! Visuals also were vastly different in simulators than in real life; there wasn’t nearly the amount of distractions in a simulated flying experience.
These days, my friend and I laugh about our initial, bumbling experiences. It does go to show though, that there is a lot of nuance to flying, and that usually, making use of all possible resources when learning is the best way to go. Whether this means your instructors, hours in the air, time on a simulator, chatting with your fellow students or hobbyists, or whatever; the more you know the better pilot you will ultimately be.