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Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Perhaps a little extreme for a gift experience or trying your hand at flying an airliner in a simulator, but never has a statement been so true. Airline pilots put many hours of work into preparing for their simulator sessions and at Simulator Review we believe a similar approach would benefit anyone attending a simulator experience.
In this article we’ll look at what can be done to prepare for your simulator session as if it were to be attended by a complete novice, whether that be new to flying, simulators or even aircraft type. These sessions are not cheap, so maximising the experience, enjoyment, learning and just as importantly bang for buck is something we feel strongly about.
As always, preparation starts in your free time at home. Soon, you’ll be seated in a flight deck that professional pilots take years of training to master and become qualified on. There are a number of things you can do at home that will ease the process and help you relax, which in turn will allow better processing of the information and absorption of the instruction given.
There are a few ways you can become familiar with your new environment well before you attend a session. Familiarity of what’s in front of you will really help and just being able to identify some of the elements of instrumentation can stem the flow from the firehose of information being pointed in your direction. By concentrating preparation on the Primary Flight Display and Navigation Display you’ll be able to identify the key flight parameters and use the controls to maintain them and follow the instructor’s commands. You can see these in numerous YouTube videos by searching the above terms, and find a multitude of images with labels displaying what each element represents. Also, some of these videos will provide a good overview of the operation in general, giving an insight in the order and pace of events and actions. Try searching Just Planes (https://www.youtube.com/user/JustPlanes).
Secondly, have some idea of what you would like to try or achieve in the session. Most instructors will have a standard plan for what they can do in a beginners session, but I can’t think of one that wouldn’t do their best to accommodate any special requests. The best simulator companies often contact their customers in advance to introduce themselves, see if you have any experience and ask if there’s anything in particular you would like to do, see or achieve. We encourage this process with owners/managers and like to see or hear about it when we visit to assess and review venues. It also helps to have a rough idea of what is available in the timeframe. We cover this a little further on in the article.
Lastly, have a look at the airports you’d like to visit on google maps or other satellite views or web images. Study the terrain, features, taxiways and runways. Have a look at where the buildings are and the various tarmac layouts. Also, have a look at the surrounding area for significant features such as lakes, coasts and buildings. Looking at websites/apps such as flightradar24 or Plane Finder to see what the real-world traffic usually does will help with understanding and realism. For example, the daily London Heathrow runway switch at 1500Z when on ‘westerlies’ and the specific use of runways for various phases such as runway 9L for landing and 9R for take-off again at London Heathrow.
Upon arrival, you can expect a briefing before flying the simulator. This may be in the simulator itself or in a classroom/briefing room environment. This is where a session plan will be shared along with an explanation of the essentials for the ‘flight’. Most venues have a reception, an area to sit and wait, toilets and refreshments (most are complementary) and most importantly some space for anyone who has come along with you.
In the briefing, there is often a short video, demonstration with models, diagrams of the instrumentation and whiteboard style instruction. It may feel like you are at school again, with a lot of information to absorb or retain, but have my word, it’ll all become clear as soon as you step into the simulator.
It is good practise for any purchased simulator time to be wholly spent ‘hands-on’ in the simulator. Most venues we have spoken with employ this procedure, but unfortunately not all do (as mentioned above, some go even further and contact you beforehand – outstanding service!). We recommend checking this at the time of purchase and if briefing time isn’t included, our advice would be to move on and find another venue.
Below are some suggested ways the time will likely be spent for each session duration.
A short familiarisation with what was covered in the briefing room, such as the relevant controls and instruments/displays. A take-off followed by some general handling such as effect of the flight controls, turns/climbs etc. At least three landings should be possible using the reposition function which saves wasted flight time in the circuit. All of this will probably be completed at one airport location, saving loading and configuration time.
We recommend a 1-hour flight for a first session. This will give a good balance between gaining proficiency in using your new skills and not becoming too overloaded with all the new information and exhilaration of the flight. Broadly the same as a half an hour session is achievable, perhaps with a little more in-depth explanation or time to practise. There will be time for more take offs and landings and depending on progress, it could be possible for a short land away flight or visit to two airport locations. It may also be possible to attempt using the thrust levers should the other parts come naturally. If not, no problem, the instructor or auto-thrust systems will happily handle this. Enjoyment is key and it’s best not to mentally overload!
A 2-hour session is a long time, but would allow you to really see what the aircraft can do and really experience flying an airliner. If at any point you feel a little over loaded, just let your instructor know and it’s easy to build in a few minutes break. In 2 hours, it would be possible to fly a short route or sample some additional airports with associated increase in number of take-offs and landings. You can expect some more in-depth examination of aircraft systems and operation such as using the autopilot, flight management computers and other often used systems. Some advanced general handling can be introduced for the more competent new aviators and the instructor could even introduce a light crosswind or low visibility for landing.
In summary, enjoyment of your session is key. Don’t worry about the technical aspects of the simulator and flying, especially for the first couple of visits – your instructor will look after you. Any preparation in advance will help you to get the most out of your session and allow the instructor to move you on to more interesting activities. Approach the session with an open mind, ready to absorb lots of information and don’t worry if you feel overloaded. Again tell your instructor and they will help you manage the stress levels – there are absolutely no expectations on their part so don’t worry! Make sure when booking the simulator session that purchased/voucher time equals flight time in the simulator and that a briefing is included in your package. Most of all, welcome to the club! These simulators are the closest thing to reality and actually flying an airliner.