Safety: Rain Check: Get Reacquainted with a Simulator

Even after hours of careful preparation, the best laid flight plans can be undone by a quick change in the weather. Conditions beyond a pilot’s control are frustrating and, if there’s no plan B, can lead to a disgruntled, grounded aviator. While inclement weather isn’t ideal, a cancelled flight is the perfect chance to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the benefits of a flight simulator.

Simulators often remind us of instrument training, but they are useful in VFR flight training, too. Beyond practicing approaches, the simulator offers a cost-effective opportunity to find and exceed aerodynamic limits. You can also practice emergency procedures, especially those you would not be able to safely test in the air; if you crash a simulator and meet the red screen of death, you can always restart.

For VFR training, improve your skills by practicing engine failures during the least convenient phases of flight, like just after takeoff. A good before-takeoff briefing discusses what the pilot in command would do in the event of an engine failure. “If we have an engine failure before rotation, we’ll stop on the runway. After rotation and there’s still runway available, we’ll land back on the runway.” But what about after rotation and no runway ahead? At what altitude would you attempt the impossible turn? The simulator is a great place to find out. Once you’ve determined the altitude at which you would turn back to the runway, watch the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Real Pilot Story: Impossible Turn for a true account of the scenario.

For instrument training, do more than just the standard approaches and holds. We might not be able to control the weather outside, but we can control the weather in the simulator. Try a zero/zero takeoff. Try a zero/zero landing. Find the tricky approaches and then fly them with a gusty 30 knot crosswind, wind shear, and snow.

Finally, use the simulator to sharpen up your emergency procedures. Practice electrical failures, fires, and more engine outs. Practice the VFR into IMC transition and, if you are a VFR only pilot, the 180-degree turn to escape. For instrument training, fail everything. Look at your track after failing one system, two systems, then all of them. How many issues can you withstand before losing control of the airplane? Practice and find out. If your simulator has multiengine capabilities, work on single-engine emergencies, too.

Once the training is done, have some fun! If you haven’t tried to do a barrel roll in a simulator before, you should. And remember, if astronauts and fighter pilots can learn from a simulator, so can you!


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