Simulator Training Staying Current (and more important, competent) Without Burning Gas!

by Richard Morey, CFII

The weather, the economic climate, and your schedule all seem to conspire to keep you grounded. This can be frustrating, especially if you need a few approaches to keep your instrument currency intact. The good news is there is an option available, which has the advantage of being less expensive than the more traditional method of staying current.

The FAA in its infinite wisdom, allows the use of approved simulators and training devices both in instrument training and for maintaining currency. Since most people don’t differentiate, I will refer to both simply as “simulators.”

For the instrument rating, students can log up to 20 hours of the minimum 40 instrument hours in a simulator. This is a real advantage as it both reduces the cost of training (a simulator typically costs much less to rent than an aircraft), and can make the early learning process go quicker. For the rated pilot, all or part of the six approaches and one hold within six months can be “flown” in a simulator. Only true simulators, with full motion, visual display and which are approved for landings, can be used to give check rides or instrument competency checks. The required circle-to-landing approach cannot be accomplished to the FAA’s satisfaction without both full visual and motion.

What this means to the rated pilot is that they can stay current in a simulator. For those of you not current, or just rusty, a simulator can make gaining currency and competency a much smoother process. Simply put, a flight simulator is a better training tool for some things, some times. Don’t get me wrong, to be a competent instrument-rated pilot you need time in the clouds, but to build skills, scrape rust or maintain currency when flying is not an option, a simulator is a great resource.

In a simulator, you can hit one switch and freeze the action. This allows both instructor and student time to sort out what is happening; something, which is hard to do in the air. With another control input a simulator can add wind, turbulence, carburetor ice, vacuum failure, inoperative navigational stations, etc.

Let’s use partial panel as an example. In an aircraft your flight instructor or safety pilot informs you of the vacuum failure, then covers the directional gyro and attitude indicator; all well and good, but not the way it would happen in the real world.

In a simulator, the instructor inputs the failure, and unless you are really good (or lucky) on your scan, your first indication of no vacuum will be when the attitude indicator and turn coordinator disagree. Now you have to cross-reference your instruments, check the vacuum gauge, and perhaps demonstrate unusual attitude recovery in the process, just like the real thing!

Let’s say you are having trouble really nailing the last 300 feet or so of an ILS approach. In a simulator, with your instructor using the pre-position function, you could easily fly six approaches in an hour. Even on a slow day, with the friendly and helpful controller doing his or her best, you would be lucky to get three approaches in the same time. There’s nothing better than repetition to develop and maintain skill.

Simulators are available at many flight schools. They come in a variety of flavors… some dead simple and others, amazingly complex. The Frasca 141 at our school can be configured to match the aircraft you fly. It has real gauges, yoke, rudder pedals and controls. All this adds realism to the training. Students claim it is actually harder to fly than an aircraft, requiring them to fine tune their instrument scan and trimming skills to fly it well. Good preparation for the real thing!

So instead of letting your instrument skills fade away, log some simulator time. You will be glad you did.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richard Morey is an 11,000-hour flight instructor and owner of Morey Airplane Company in Middleton, Wisconsin: 608-836-1711 (

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