Modern Flight Training

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It was Monday morning in July 1980 when Forrest Mack walked into the United Airlines Flight Training Center in Denver Colorado.  He had gone to the UALTC each year for the last 11 years for an annual flight check at his position as a Flight Engineer.  This year was different, however.  Forrest was moving up to the First Officer position pursuant to the union mandated seniority schedule.  For the first time in his career with UAL he would take his seat to the right of the Captain at the the flight controls of a Boeing 737.  Position and equipment upgrade was as common then as it is today, but for Mack it would be particularly challenging.  Mack joined UAL in 1969 with a private pilot certification, instrument rating and about 400 hours of actual flight time.  UAL was in the midst of a hiring frenzy, and it was believed that he would quickly rise through the ranks to Captain in a short period of time. But as circumstances and markets changed, so did the demand for pilots. 

During his career Mack had been furloughed twice, rehired as a baggage handler, ticket agent and gate attendant in order to retain his union entitlement with the airline.  When he wasn’t working for UAL he was employed as a construction worker and in the shoe department of Sears & Roebuck.  Like many other Flight Engineers at that time he had neither the interest, nor the money to maintain his flight skills in the little Cessna 152 in which he received his training.  When Forrest Mack reported for training he hadn’t flown an airplane for more than 10 years, but in accordance with UAL’s agreement with the Airline Pilots Association he would remain at the training center until he was approved by the flight examiners to perform the duties of the First Officer’s position.  And, so he did.  Eight weeks later, thanks to the flight simulators of the time, Forrest took his place along side the Captain on his first trip in the right seat from San Francisco to Nashville.  

The best-known early flight simulation device was the Link Trainer, produced by Edwin Link in Binghamton, New York in 1927 and it was first available for sale in 1929.  Some of these early war era flight simulators still exist, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find working examples.  In 1954 United Airlines bought four flight simulators at a cost of $3 million from Curtiss-Wright that were similar to the earlier models, with the addition of visuals, sound and movement. This was the first of today's modern flight simulators for commercial aircraft.  In June 2018 there were 1,270 commercial airline simulators in service.  The modern flight simulator has done more to advance pilot proficiency and aviation safety than human intervention could possibly achieve.  Today, every professional pilot undergoes a periodic flight check to insure that company flight deck and air safety standards for individual and collective performance are reinforced and perfected.  Almost all of this training is conducted in a flight simulator.   

The desktop flight simulator was first developed for the PC in 1977, and through a series of collaborative efforts a PC version was licensed to Microsoft in 1982 and marketed as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0.  In 2014, Dovetail Games was granted the rights by Microsoft to port the Gold Edition of Microsoft's Flight Simulator X to Steam, and was published as Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition.  The desktop flight simulator has continued to grow in both popularity and sophistication, and today includes X-Plane, produced and distributed by Laminer Research.  As of May 2017 X-Plane 11 is available in both a consumer platform, and as a professional version. The commitment of Laminer Research to realistic fulfillment has clearly established the X-Plane platform as state-of-the-art in ATDs (aviation training devices), and real time training precision. Flight simulation is not a game anymore, and X-Plane’s fidelity to aircraft performance now requires extensive professional training in order to engage the platform’s current technology with any relevance, and in any meaningful way.
While X-Plane, Flight Simulator X and other similar desktop platforms are not yet available as FAA certified ATD’s, these simulator programs, managed by competent flight simulator instructors, can produce airplane ready student pilot candidates at a fraction of real time and cost.  Even if you cannot log every hour spent in an ATD  toward your certificate or rating, training in an ATD will maximize the efficiency of your training time and minimize the money you spend by enabling you to learn basic procedures on the ground, and then transition seamlessly into the aircraft.  This is especially true for pre-solo training. Another advantage is the ability to train during periods of poor weather or if an aircraft is not available, preventing undesirable breaks that interrupt your ability to practice and retain certain skills.

Teaching is also much more productive in an ATD, where distractions such as noise and turbulence can be kept to a minimum. The ability to pause an exercise in order to explain or review and reinforce a procedure offers a huge advantage that can only be achieved in the simulator.  Pilots can plan and execute a cross county flight, and practice a difficult approach in IFR and VFR minimums.  Last but not least, ATDs permit practice of emergency procedures and other demanding skills with a level of safety that might not be possible in the airplane.  Using aviation training devices promotes increased safety while saving time, money and the environment. The modern desktop ATD has reached a level of technical fidelity approaching that of the industrial models, and X-Plane may soon be available as a certified platform. Consider this January 11, 2019 review.

2018 saw the X-Plane simulator finally shake off it's "hobbyist" tag ... thus 11.30 update again pushes the boundaries higher and better again, but this version update is not a final solution waiting for the next update, but part of a simulator in transition that will build into a far higher platform of a quality ...  the words "head and Shoulders" and "above" start to come to mind. Read the full review -

 Every aspiring pilot should begin in an ATD, and no experienced pilot should be without one.

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