Taking chances – the safe way

The snow was blowing pretty hard. I could barely see the end of runway 35. I had never flown out of Aspen and these weren’t the best conditions for my first lesson. Ehh, what the heck, I am paying for the experience so I might as well go for it. I pushed the Arrow to full power and eventually lifted off the runway.

The effects of flying from a high altitude strip were much more dramatic than I had expected. Climbing to clear the mountains was taking much longer than I anticipated. The weather was getting worse and I was way out of my comfort zone. The flight was quickly going bad so I had my instructor in the right seat give me vectors for the Aspen ILS.

I tried to follow the vectors, but had to change my route because of terrain. I just couldn’t seem to gain the altitude I needed to clear the mountains. I was obviously unprepared for this type of flying.

RedBird FMX

Do you use flight simulators to get your fix? (Image courtesy of Redbird Flight Simulations)

The funny thing about my Aspen experience was that I wasn’t the least bit nervous. Not because I had Todd, my trusty CFI, sitting next to me, but rather because the entire experience was in a flight simulator.

Located at Ellington Field, just South of Houston, AV Flight Simulation operates a Redbird flight simulator capable of simulating a Cessna 172 G1000, Piper PA28 with a Garmin 530/430, and a Beechcraft Baron with a 530/430. The simulator can be configured to fly these planes into and out of any airport in the continental United States. Being that almost all of my takeoffs and landings have been from sea level airports in and around the Houston area, the simulator was a great way to get a taste of high altitude flying. Not only was I able to experience the effects high altitude has on an aircraft but I was also able to experience flying in varying degrees of snowfall. Living in the Houston area I have not had such a cold weather opportunity.

If you have read my Air Facts article Why Do We Do It, you know that I have a propensity for motion sickness. My previous simulator experience was limited to a PC-based simulator program which had no effect on my inner ear at all so I was anxious to see if flying in the Redbird sim had any kind of negative effect.

After about 45 minutes of flying through the snow and shooting instrument approaches, I could feel the beginning effects of motion sickness. This is typically the point where I head back to the airport and hope I touch terra firma before the inevitable happens.

Just as I was feeling a bit sick, the most amazing thing happened. My CFI hit the pause button. I stepped out of the simulator and quickly recovered. Yes! Stopping mid flight was such a treat.

After my session, I spent some time talking with the owner of the simulator, Kevin Gabriel, and he told me I could easily turn off the simulator’s motion. Doing so would greatly reduce the chances of my getting motion sick. Motionless training would be a great way for me to focus on aspects of flying that can be difficult to do in an actual airplane. I am anxious to schedule a “motionless” session so that I can focus on learning more about instrument flying.

You do not have to poke around the aviation message boards for long before you find heated debates on the usefulness of simulator training. Both sides of the argument have valid points on when and how a simulator should be used. Regardless of your views on the training aspects of simulators, if you have an opportunity to fly a sim, I encourage you to do so. After all, it’s flying, right? Well, sort of anyway. And don’t you like to fly?

Like most pilots, I have a passion for aviation and will not pass up an opportunity to do something aviation related. When the new simulator came to my part of town, there was no way I was not going to give this experience a shot. My objective was not to flight train per se but rather to take a few chances that I would never take in a real airplane.

I was able to do just that with the Aspen trip and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I don’t think my 45 minutes of simulator experience greatly enhanced or sharpened my mountain flying skills, but it was a great way to experience different flying conditions while being safely planted on the ground.

I love aviation and all things aviation related. Flying the simulator was another way to get my aviation fix and I am sure that it won’t take long before I schedule another session. After all, how else can I fly below the rim of the Grand Canyon, shoot the ILS for Van Nuys’ 16 Right, and land in blizzard conditions at North America’s highest airport (Lake County, Colorado) all for less than the cost of 1 hour of Hobbs time on the Piper Warrior?

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8 Comments

  1. Todd says:

    Simulators are absolutely good for some training. I used an instrument simulator on my home pc before my instrument check ride because I hadn’t flown much in the couple months after being signed(because the weather was that bad!) off. I sharpened my scan a lot because of it and my precision approached improved. I passed my check ride with flying colors.

  2. Rich says:

    I recently flew a Redbird. My only complaint was that the control sensitivity was a lot more sensitive than the actual airplane. Was told by the instructor that this was a common complaint and could not be changed. But it doe give a very realistic simulation of approach and motion.

  3. Eric says:

    There are a variety of simulators on the market, from something as simple as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 10, to complex simulators like the Red Bird. Each simulator type has its strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, so many of them attempt to be everything and fall short in one or two areas.
    I have to agree with Rich and Michael, the Red Bird can be either sluggish or overly sensitive in its responses, not to mention vomit inducing when the motion aspect is active. However, for instrument training, Red Bird is fantastic.
    There are motion simulators on the market that provide a very specific function for a focused area of training. There are crosswind simulators that do an amazing job of training for those windy days and does provide a nice “flying fix” when its just not a great day to make the houses small.
    All and all simulators should be a required part of flight training. They can, as in the case of crosswind simulators, provide a focused approach, and far more opportunities to practice more landings in a shorter period of time than actual flight. Not to mention, its easier on the pocketbook.

  4. johnw says:

    I spent 3+ days in-a-row, in an absolute blizzard in the RedBird – the added sensitivity actually helped me in the plane. having my instructor & I share a much larger cockpit w/pause & custom starting locations, etc. – prepared me perfectly to pass my IFR checkride – only 1 full day in the plane after the RedBird. I’ve been in other sims; boring. Say what you want about accelerated training, but try shooting 4 approaches/hour w/o headphones in a real plane – try it yourself.

  5. Nelson says:

    Microsoft Flight Simulator X can be made as complex as you want with added hardware and software (e.g. Multiple monitors to give a 3D view, radio panels, autopilot). I am a real-world instrument-rated private pilot and I have found it to be impossible to keep IFR-current. So I fly VFR (real world) for fun and simulated IFR for mental challenge. I also fly on a virtual airline, flying all kinds of simulated aircraft up to a Boeing 747. On a recent flight in a real Cessna 162 Skycatcher I was amazed to find that I actually felt I was landing in the sim! Don’t knock it until you try it.

    • Leo Haas says:

      Agree with Nelson. Use FSX, multiple screens, with PFC’s yoke and pedals, PA28 flight dynamics of the real planes I fly and Dutch scenery with anything geographically in place. It enhanced my 10 hrs IFR training, a must in the past to obtain a PPL and it even assisted me a lot – believe me or not – to control a tail wheel plane in crosswind situations.
      Waiting now for simple effective full motion equipment that I can afford.
      O ja, I ‘m 80!

  6. Hunter Heath says:

    Recently took an introductory 30 min in a Redbird sim, just a VFR round robin with “unexpected” descent through clouds on return to base. This is a fantastic machine for gaining/maintaining GA flight proficiency, esp. in light of the machine’s relatively low cost. Motion helps. It took all of 30 seconds to forget I was in a sim– I started looking for traffic! This sim should be in any serious GA flight school. Despite its modest limitations in terms of flight control realism, it is a fine tool and I highly recommend using it for IFR training and currency.

  7. Hunter Heath says:

    P.S. I got to buzz the tower at Indianapolis International, wave my wings, and thumb my nose as I flew by!