Question of the Month: How Can a Flying Club Benefit from a Simulator?

There is frequently discussion within flying clubs about the purchase or lease of additional aircraft, but has your club ever contemplated adding a simulator to its lineup?  If not, it might be something that warrants discussion.  After all, there are numerous advantages to having a simulator in a flying club—some of which might not be immediately apparent.  This month, in answering our Question of the Month, we have decided to highlight four of the best reasons that flying clubs might want to consider getting a simulator, whether it’s a high-end advanced aviation training device or simply a PC with Microsoft Flight Simulator X or X-Plane installed.

1. Practice the Unpracticeable

A flight simulator can allow club members to practice the unpracticeable—those things that you couldn’t or wouldn’t want to attempt in the club Cessna, lest there be a possibility that you end up as a social club that once had an aircraft.  Simulators allow you to easily create scenarios that would be dangerous in real life, such as a forced landing without power, an “impossible turn” back to the runway after a loss of power on takeoff, or canyon turns at different airspeeds and wind conditions.  For a more complete examination of the various ways you could use a simulator to become a safer pilot, see this month's Safety article.

2. Currency and Training

Regardless of the type of simulator your club might choose, it is likely to be at least somewhat useful for currency or training purposes.  Even simulators on PCs, though time on them cannot be logged toward flight training or currency, can be immensely helpful.  This author has recently been using Microsoft Flight Simulator X as an aid during instrument training, to help reinforce concepts that are learned in the air.  This being said, more advanced simulators can be even more beneficial, as time on them can be logged.  Recent regulatory changes have been favorable for those who like to integrate simulator time into their logbooks—changes which are likely to make the idea of a simulator even more desirable to your club. 

When discussing logging time in simulators, it is necessary to distinguish between the fundamental types.  Aviation Training Devices (ATDs), which are simulators approved by the FAA for logging aeronautical experience requirements, come in two forms: advanced aviation training devices (AATDs) and basic aviation training devices (BATDs).  The core difference between the two is that AATDs must meet higher specifications of flight performance and must have an instructor’s station. 

If a club has either an AATD or a BATD, members can use it to log flight hours toward an instrument rating.  A BATD can be used for up to 10 hours (25 percent) of training, while an AATD can be used for up to 20 hours (50 percent).  These numbers mean that an ATD would likely prove immensely popular with club members looking to earn their instrument.

It’s not just members interested in IFR training that would see the savings associated with an ATD.  Due to recent regulatory changes, ATDs can now be used for logging IFR experience requirements of six instrument approaches, holding procedures and tasks, and intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems without a CFI-I observing and endorsing the session (it still must be recorded in a pilot’s logbook).  Also, an instrument-rated pilot’s flights in an ATD to maintain instrument experience carry forward through six calendar months; this is opposed to the old rule, in which this experience only carried forward two months. 

Another time that simulators can be useful is during aircraft checkouts.  Does your club have a new member that is being checked out in the club aircraft for the first time, or an existing member who is interested in transitioning to a different airplane?  If your club has a simulator, an instructor can sit down with the member and walk them through the basics prior to stepping into the aircraft.  This can make for a much more efficient use of time spent in the air.

3. Encourage Proficiency—Year Round!

Unlike the previous point, there is no need to differentiate between simulator types for this benefit.  Put simply, flying a simulator—whether it is installed on a computer or in an AATD—can make you a more proficient pilot.  If there is any element of your flying you are looking to hone, why not do it on a simulator—an environment that is free of distractions and can be paused—prior to working on it in an airplane?

Another great benefit of a simulator is that it can be flown regardless of what is happening outside.  It can be easy for long stretches of poor weather in the winter to erode one’s flying skills, but flying a simulator during these months allows one to become a pilot for all seasons.    

4. Sims are Fun

Any list of ways that simulators can be beneficial for clubs would be incomplete without pointing out that in addition to everything else, they are simply fun.  Simulators allow us to challenge ourselves in ways that we couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) in real life.  Some come with packages of missions that we would otherwise not fly in aircraft that we would not otherwise be able to pilot.  Just because simulators are tools for learning and proficiency doesn’t mean that they can’t be immensely enjoyable.

An additional aspect of simulators that makes them ideal for clubs is that they can be great in a social setting.  Your club could host competitions among members to see who can handle different scenarios most effectively.  Throw in some food, and you will have something dangerously close to a party.  Even better—you don’t need to be a certificated or current pilot to fly a simulator.  If your club hosts social events with members’ families, simulators are a great way to let kids and spouses take their turn at the yoke.

For all of the reasons above, adding a simulator to your club could be a great benefit—both to your club’s level of proficiency and its camaraderie.

Related Articles