Flying my simulator during quarantine

When I first caught the flying bug, the opportunities I had to be in the air were far and few between. Aside from the occasional airline flight to visit family or the sightseeing flight over Honolulu while on vacation, I was relegated to terra firma. Physically being in the cockpit of an aircraft while flying and being able to manipulate the controls was an even rarer opportunity only made possible by the three Young Eagles flights I had under my belt. As I look back on those early days of my life, it’s hard to believe that I had been able to go so long without flying in an airplane. The only thing that kept me sane was being able to use a tool that many aspiring pilots use to try to scratch the flying itch: a PC-based flight simulator.

Flight simulator system
A home flight simulator is a valuable tool when you’re stuck at home.

With all of California now under a state-wide stay-at-home order (and those in the Bay Area where I live having been on one for two days prior to the state-wide declaration), I have found myself strangely going back to my beginnings. The old Saitek joystick has been busted out, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X has been fired back up on my aging PC. As pattern work or hundred-dollar hamburger trips are not considered essential, flying in the real world is out of the question for at least the next few weeks. So, in an attempt to keep proficiency in procedures—and to keep at least some of my sanity—back to flight simulator it is.

As a 172 pilot, I had been intrigued by A2A Simulations’ Cessna 172R trainer that came out some years ago. The panel offered with the aircraft closely mirrors the early-2000s Cessna 172SP steam gauge panel that I fly at the flying club where I am a member. And A2A, as they always do, took enough care in the development of the model to have avionics and flight characteristics that are accurate enough for me to follow the typical operating procedures I would follow in the real plane. So, with the new circumstances, I decided to finally take the plunge and see if all of the “hype” around A2A’s 172 was justified. After a late-night purchase and a few times around the virtual pattern at my home airport, I decided that if I couldn’t fly up to my favorite $100 hamburger destination of Santa Rosa (KSTS) in real life, then by golly I would do it in a flight simulator!

I took off and did my best to simulate the San Francisco Class B transition that the controllers typically give me on my way up north to STS with ATC communications—or, more accurately, me talking to myself—included. The VOR tracking of the Sausalito (SAU) VOR I had been planning on doing for practice in real life was easily accomplished with A2A’s 172R. After passing SAU and flying over Petaluma, I started my turn inbound and tuned in the ILS 32 into KSTS. After doing my best to fly the ILS inbound (someday I’ll get that instrument rating), I landed on 32, taxied back, reversed my route, and took back off for home. After the familiar overhead entry to the right downwind, I landed back at my home airport, taxied back to the parking spot, and shut down.

While flying a simulator is decidedly less exciting than flying the real thing—especially since I can’t add an entry to my logbook afterward—it gives me the ability to stay brushed up on my procedures and if not satisfy the flying itch, at least pacify it. As much as I wish I could head over to the flying club and go for a flight, I know that the reason I can’t is a good one that will not only benefit me but all of those around me, including the flying club family I have become a part of.

The next month or two will be difficult for the aviation industry, and not just because we pilots can’t go flying. But if there is one certainty about aviation, it’s that it is tough and resilient, just like the people who are a part of it.

In the meantime, those of us who must stay at home will find a way to keep our minds active. Whether it is catching up on those FAA Wings courses we’ve been meaning to do, studying for a knowledge test for that rating or certificate we’ve been meaning to take, flying flight simulator at home, or some combination of these, we’ll do our best to stay sharp so that we can jump back into the cockpit once the all-clear is given.

For those of you who are still up there flying, I wish you blue skies and good health.

For those of you who are on the ground for the next month or two, I’ll wish you blue “virtual” skies and good health. We’ll be back in the air in no time!

8 Comments

  • Unfortunately, that’s one of the many prices you pay for living in the Peoples Republic of CA. Although our governor has curtailed freedom of movement somewhat in NC, I’m still flying at will and doing my best to keep our local FBOs in business. Good luck with your simulator.

  • MSFS just doesn’t cut it these days. If you want to keep your skills sharp *and* have fun, get yourself X-Plane and a VR headset (assuming you have the kind of PC that can run it, and if not, why not? Use some of that cash you saved by not being able to fly during the lockdown).

  • Hey Brian,

    I have almost the exact same set-up as you do–same yoke and pedals. I grounded myself for medical reasons, so I’ve been using this for quite a while. Years ago I got the entire country in photo scenery and it is very realistic. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • As a corporate pilot, even in normal times I have slow periods. I hung on to my old desktop with MS Flight sim X and leave it at the hangar. I don’t have internet, don’t have a fancy yoke or rudder pedals. If I feel rusty, I fly my default flight in the Lear 45- weather set to mins, takeoff, fly a big rectangle to set myself up on the ILS, land and do it again. 3 to 4 times around and each one usually gets better and better, even the landings.
    Can’t log it. Don’t care about scenery and the cheap control stick doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your scan gets rusty and the touchiness of the stick and small panel gets you scanning like crazy and using small, quick, early precise control movements.
    The next flight hand flying the CJ seems easy by comparison and even my landings are generally better.

  • I believe that GA and maintaining proficiency in flying skills is arguably covered by the DHS’s declaration that these are essential activities. Don’t know how that would play in the PRC, but seems like a case could be made.

    • Peter – Thank you for your comment! That argument certainly can be made. When I first wrote the article, the stay-at-home order was in the early stages of implementation. At the time, the consensus from local airport management, flight schools, clubs, and FBOs was that flying for proficiency/currency was non-essential. Since then, new guidance has been released, stipulating that solo flights for proficiency/currency will be allowed under the order so long as businesses have procedures in place to, among other things, maintain social distancing and disinfect surfaces after flying. In my case, I live with my parents, who are in the “higher risk” category with regards to COVID-19. Because of this, I decided that at this time, the risks outweigh the benefits for me. So, I will be flying the sim for a little longer until things clear up.
      Thank you again for your input!

  • Great to see a pilot who appreciates the present standard of home simulation. I use a 65″ LED TV, Track IR5 and a quite pricey Yoko yoke with some quality rudders, throttle quadrant, trim wheel and flap switch.

    Recently I switched from P3d (Lockheed Martin’s 64bit FSX) to X-plane11 with Simcoder REP for the Cessna. X-plane partners well with AirManager and a touch screen so I can use VOR as well as GPS navigation.

    Great immersion. Should also mention PilotEdge, where for a modest fee, real world controllers will make you follow the rules as you fly over the western half of the US.

    A CFII flew my home rig and gave it an 8+ out of 10 for accuracy of feel. For limited budget and space this set up performs beautifully. AND..just wait for the upcoming FS2020 with even better aircraft physics and real world global scenery at 3cm resolution.

    Home simulation is coming into a whole new level soon. Can hardly wait.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *