Preparing for a Simulator Session – Advanced
This follows on from our recent article about “Preparing for a Simulator Session – Novice” which can be found here simulatorreview.com/preparing-for-a-simulator-session-novice/
If you have been to a simulator venue a few times, and have some experience (including using home simulation), this article is for you and will help to get the most out of your venue visit.
We recognise that simulator time can be expensive, so it is important to ensure you extract the maximum value for your session. If you have a reasonable amount of experience on simulators and some experience on a flight simulator at home you probably don’t need too much time being instructed on how to go up, down, left and right. But what are the things you can do during your session which will really provide a challenging and rewarding visit? Hopefully this article will help with some suggestions.
Preparation at Home
Some preparation at home will really help maximise the value of your session. You may already be familiar with some basic flight simulation tools such as Navigraph for charts and simBrief for flight planning. If you have a Navigraph subscription and have it on your own tablet, then it is going to be a great help during your session. Most venues have access to some kind of chart provider so don’t feel you need to bring something yourself, but as always, it is easier to use your own tablet and use a chart you are familiar with if possible.
If there are things you don’t understand with regard to charts, or anything else of course, don’t be afraid to ask the instructor. It may be worth you noting down some of your questions just so you have them to hand on the day. Most instructors will have time to go through a few things before or after your session. We always look for how closely venues plan their sessions when we visit for our blue pin reviews for reasons such as this.
If there are specific areas or airports you want to fly to then try to make contact before your session. They may be able to reassure you that they already have good scenery for that area, or they may be open to getting some if required. If you are keen to do a flight on VATSIM do ask whether they are connected and familiar. We will be publishing and article and releasing a podcast soon with more information on VATSIM – keep an eye out for that!
You can also let the venue know what your level of experience is to allow them to best tailor your session – there may be no point giving you the 15 minute briefing on the basics of flying if you have hundreds of hours on a home simulator and/or a PPL for example.
If you are going to try a simulator for an aircraft type you may want to do a little research to get some familiarity with the instrument layout and how it flies. For example, the vast majority of my experience is on a B737 simulator, so if I booked some time at one of the A320 simulation venues on our directory I would try and find some guides on the A320 or videos on YouTube. There is no need for you to turn up and be an expert on the aircraft type, but it helps if you have a little bit of understanding which you can build on when you are there. Regardless of whether you are familiar with the aircraft type, the instructor will go through any characteristics of their specific simulator.
What do you want to do?
Have a think about what you want to do on the day. Your instructor may be able to come up with some challenges as well for you, but if there are things you want to try let them know. Think about things that you can’t do at home but can do on the simulator you are visiting.
One idea is to try some challenging approaches. Some of my favourites in Europe are:
- Calvi St Catherine (LFKC/CLY) – circling approach to runway 36
- Chambery (LFLB/CMF) – visual approach to runway 36
- Samos (LGSM/SMI) – VOR/DME approach followed by a circling manoeuvre to land on runway 09
- Madeira Funchal (LPMA/FNC) – VOR approach followed by a visual segment to runway 05
- Innsbruck LOWI/INN – approaching from either direction
- Lugano (LSZA/LUG) – circling approach to runway 19
- Gibraltar (LXGB/GIB) – approach to runway 09
Further afield have a look at some of these:
- Toncontín (MHTG/TGU) – RNAV approach to runway 02
- Queenstown (NZQN/ZQN)
- Cochabamba (SLCB/CBB) – VOR approach to runway 14
- Hong Kong Kai Tak (VHKT) – IGS approach to runway 13, now closed but simulators often have this available
- Paro Bhutan (VQPR/PBH)
- Washington National (KDCA/DCA) – river visual approach to runway 19
- JFK (KJFK/JFK) – parkway visual approach to runway 13L (aka Canarsie Approach)
If you want to try any of these and have a long enough session, try and incorporate them in to a full flight. Some examples of short flights might be Munich to Innsbruck, or Nice to Calvi.
A full flight is a great idea if you if you have a long enough session. Ideally not something too long, but flights of say 100-200nm will be busy enough that you will always be doing something, with perhaps 5 minutes during the cruise to catch your breath or read the newspaper for a more authentic experience! Also, make use of your instructor – if you are used to flying on your own at home and doing everything yourself, try working as multi-crew, with you as the pilot flying and your instructor fulfilling the pilot monitoring role. Even better, come with a fellow simulator enthusiast and share the roles between you. This has the added benefit of spreading the cost between two, you both gain some experience and most venues will be more than happy to accommodate this.
As well as different types of approaches, another variable to challenge you may be varying the weather conditions. How about trying crosswind take-offs and landings or low visibility operations? Most simulator venues in the Simulator Review directory have a live weather feed, but they also have the ability to change to any user desired conditions or a specific day and time in the past – perhaps you want to try a landing on a day a storm was at your local airport and you saw some impressive looking videos on YouTube. Here is a link to a day in early 2020 when one of our own team members was battling with Storm Ciara (link). Remember that venue will usually have the ability to quickly reposition you on various points on final approach, so you can always have multiple attempts by repositioning to a 4nm final approach and keep trying to improve your technique and skill level. Your instructor will have plenty of tips and they will give you a lot of useful information on how to deal with any challenging conditions.
Lastly, how about failures? Try the usual things like an engine failure during take-off followed by an airborne return to the airport with a one engine landing. The venue will most likely be able to simulate any failure, so don’t be afraid to ask for something, or let your instructor make suggestions. Try working through the failure or emergency situation by using the quick reference handbook (QRH) and onboard aircraft systems. You can find copies of these online and the venue should have one within the simulator.
What to can you do in the time you have purchased?
Your choice of things to do when you visit is really going to be determined by the amount of time you have. Generally, for an advanced simulator enthusiast we would recommend sessions of 1 hour at a minimum, and ideally 2 hours. With 2 hours you could easily try a few take-offs and landings in the first hour at a few different places, and then do a short gate to gate flight in the second hour. Ensure you don’t have too much planned though. A 1 hour flight would involve 20-25 minutes of setting up and taxying followed by a 30-35 minute flight, such as London to Manchester, New York to Washington DC or Bahrain to Doha.
In summary, remember that your session should be enjoyable above everything else. Your instructor will want to ensure you are challenged but not frustrated. Have some suggestions for things you want to try – and hopefully this article will have given you some food for thought and new ideas. However, don’t worry about having a plan for every moment of your session. If you have a few ideas the instructor will be able to build around them. Do let your instructor know what your experience is as you don’t want to waste precious time in the simulator re-learning the basics if you are already familiar with them.
Lastly, take advantage of the simulator. Try things you can’t do at home with your pc flight simulator to ensure you get the most value from your session.
After your session, if you like the simulator and want to go back again, ask about whether they have any returning customer offers or a frequent flyers club. Some venues have schemes like this, and you can get significant discounts on the prices for future visits.