Today’s Flight Plan
Sick of not being able to fly during the winter months? Well, flight simulation can be your medicine!
Today we talk about what it takes to get into flight simulation, from the cost, all the way to perfecting procedures. We have tips on a whole lot of things that can help you better setup a realistic flight simulator.
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Flying loud grounded. This is AviatorCast episode 81!
Calling all aviators, pilots, flight sim enthusiasts and aviation lovers, you’ve landed at AviatorCast! Join us weekly in our efforts to become better masters of the air through interviews, refreshers, lessons, training topics, simulator set-up, hangar talk, news and more! Buckle up and prepare yourself for this week’s episode of AviatorCast! Preflight complete, fuel on board and flight plan filed. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires! Here’s your humble host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. If you have a love for flying things like, you know that flying never really stops. You think about flying while driving, eating and dream about it while sleeping. Yes. It is that wonderment of all things aloft that brings us together today. So welcome to this, the 81st episode of AviatorCast. It is my pleasure to have you here. This podcast is brought to you by Angle of Attack, a flight training media production studio which I found it and which I run. So first of, a little bit about AviatorCast just in case you’re new here at the 81st episode. We won’t hold you to it. You can always go back and listen to the other episodes. So AviatorCast is all about aviation passion. This is where we come together, we talk about certain topics, keep us going, keep our knowledge growing and we just meet together on a regular basis. Also, I bring inspiring aviators on the show and interview them, talk to them about their careers, about what they’re up to, how they got into flying, and any insight they have into the industry and into flying itself.
Maybe you have been out of aviation for a while and you’re looking to rignite the flame. This is also a place where you can do that. Or maybe you are looking to fly for the first time and you’re looking to get the courage to do that. Whether it’s the courage to choose it as a profession and dive right in or courage to try flying because maybe you’re scared of it, probably don’t get many of those here on the show, but over and above everything else, this is a place where we talk about aviation passion and that’s what it is all about. I come to you week after week and bring that to you.
And to share a little bit with you about what that is like for others, we have a review that comes to us from Matt and Matt says, he is from Kentucky, he gives us five stars. He says “Great show. Whenever I’m not in my real airplane working on my instrument rating, you can probably find me on my simulator with this podcast playing in the background while flying on a crosscountry. Here in Kentucky, I don’t get to meet very many people with the passion for aviation like I have. With this show, I feel like I get to meet a variety of different aviators and learn and draw inspiration from them. Every show has been educational and entertaining. It is very organized and Chris always keeps the conversations interesting. I hope this show continues on for years to come while I continue my journey to make it to the airlines. If you have an interest for aviation, there is no way you won’t like this podcast. Keep up the good work.” And that is from Matt.
So Matt, a huge thanks for reviewing the show. That means a lot to us. Helps spread the word of AviatorCast. As a thanks, I’m going to send you an AviatorCast Fly or Die t-shirt to Kentucky all the way from Alaska and I hope you enjoy it while you’re flying, working on an instrument rating and boy, I’m excited for you to get to the airlines someday. So Matt, thanks for joining us and I really appreciate it. If you guys ever want to reach out to me, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt, write me there. The rest of you, send me your ideas, your feedback, whatever it is, and I will be happy to correspond with you, and of course you can find us on twitter and Facebook, those locations as well if you find yourself around those social media outlets.
Alright, so on today’s episode. I’ve been thinking about this the last several weeks with a great reduction in my flying in the winter months and I thought why don’t I put together an episode that talks about flying while grounded. So obviously in the winter months, we don’t fly as much because of weather. Some of you are flying for a living and you’re flying for school and things like that, so maybe you’re flying more. But for the vast majority of people, a lot of the flying, a lot of the recreational flying is done in the summer months and so it really slows down in the winter months. Or maybe you’re held back by weather and those sort of things. So I thought I’d put together a podcast, an episode here that is just me sharing some of my knowledge about what you can do to stay sharp while you’re on the ground. So we’re going to go through what those things are here in this episode and this is largely a flight simulation episode. So my point here is going to be that flight simulation can be a great tool, a very cheap high valued tool for you to stay sharp while grounded in the winter months.
Alright, so let’s get right into it. Here is flying while grounded.
Alright, flying while grounded. So obviously it’s the winter time right now and a lot of you aren’t out there actually flying yourselves because the weather is bad, there is icing, there is low visibility, whatever it is, and you’re on the ground more often than not. So this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s snowing or a lot of things are crazy going on. It just means that it’s the time of the year where everyone slows down and flying isn’t happening as often as you would like, as often as possible. I remember that when I was doing my private pilot training, there was a radius of about 2 miles around the airport, centered right around the airport, of thick dense fog and it delayed me for three months. So this sort of stuff happens.
And maybe you’re grounded for other reasons. Maybe you’re grounded because of medical reasons. Maybe you have low money right now and you need your dollars to go a long way to get you further in your training. Or maybe you’re not even in training yet and you want to get to get there. So all of those are reasons why you’re going to want to listen to this episode and listen to some of the tips and tricks I give you to help you along the way. So what we’re going to talk about today is flight simulation. So this is going to be all about flight simulation, how to use flight simulation to assist you while you are on the ground. So, I’m going to go through five major aspects of this, five major aspects.
One, the cost of entry. Two, approach with professionalism. Three, practice real world scenarios. Four, learn something new. And five, schedule it just like real flights.
So first let’s talk about the cost of entry. So when you get into flight simulation, what you’re doing is you’re buying a tool for your flight training that you will use over and over again. The really important thing to realize here is that this is not gaming machine. This is not a new PC for you. This is something for you to save time and money overall in your flight training because of the limitless amount of practice that you can do on a simulator. So I get a question quite often and that is how much does it cost to build a flight simulator? How much is it going to set me back?
So I actually looked into this recently over the last several days and found that on some of the popular websites out there that have gaming or computer hardware, gaming desktops if you will, that PCs that are pretty much doable for flight simulation from anywhere 800 dollars to 1800 dollars. Now, that is generally entry-level. That’s not gonna have all your peripherals and things like that. There are other companies who will build you a PC of greater quality and you see some of those in places like jetline systems. They build flight simulation-specific PCs ready to go pretty much. But what I find is that for those of you that are on a tight budget, you’re trying to get your training dollars to go a long way, you’re going to be in this range, between 800 and 1800 dollars. So if you spend 1400 dollars, you’re going to get a really descent machine, right? This is going to be a machine that can handle flight simulators, specifically my recommendation would be Prepar3d right now. You will be able to run Prepar3d to a high level with all of what you need basically for 2000 dollars. Now, that is taking into account that you’re spending 1400 dollars on the machine itself and then that leaves 600 dollars for things like the flight controls and for the software that you’ll need to run your simulator, things like that. So that gives you plenty of room there to buy those other peripherals that you are going to need. So if you want to go even further with your machine, again, I mentioned that you could go with someone like Jetline Systems to build your machine.
I really hugely believe in virtual reality these days. We have the Oculus Rift headset that’s going to be coming out at the end of March. I’ve already ordered one of those because I’ve had the development kit for Oculus Rift and I love it. It is the biggest jump in realism for flight simulation that I’ve seen, so it’s really great. You can go back a couple episodes from here and you can listen to our virtual reality episode. I think you guys will like that. You could also go for nicer flight controls. So while I would suggest getting something like Saitek for your entry level low cost flight controls, you can also get very nice metal, longer-lasting made in the USA flight controls from people like GoFlight and that will give you a more quality feel. But again, you can come in at a very low price between, somewhere between I would say 1200 dollars and 2000 dollars to get a decent machine or a very nice machine in that range. So obviously in the lower end of that. It’s not gonna be as good as the higer end, and you’re going to have a simulator out of that cost, out of that investment that is going to really really help out in keeping you flying while grounded.
Alright, so another thing that you need to realize about simulators and about having a home simulator is what comes up in number two. So that is approach with professionalism. Remember that this is not a toy. This is a tool for you and for your training. This isn’t a gaming machine so you’re not going to play Star Wars Battlefront on this thing. This is your simulator. You need to treat it like it is a real airplane and that means that you’re going to approach it with a certain amount of professionalism, okay? So in this airplane that you have, in this simulator, you are going to be doing real procedures. You’re going to approach it as if would approach a real airplane, with an assertive attitude, one where you want to be safe, you want to make great decisions. You need to treat the airplane like that because those mental storylines that you go through as you go through the unfolding of a flight if you will, will meld into your brain and you will be in the game here on the ground, not a fun game but you will have your head in the game in other words by treating this simulator with the utmost professionalism. So that is really, really important to realize that this is not a toy. This is something that is here for you and an integral part of your training.
Alright, so number three, practice real-world scenarios. So I have some cool stuff to share here and this mainly where we are going to get into some of the pieces of software that you can use to help you in the ultimate realistic world that you are going to be flying in. So one of the biggest things that you can do in a simulator these days is you can fly with realistic weather. So there are programs like ActiveSky that will actually download all the local media METARs, TAFs, winds aloft data, pretty much everything that is available in the international aviation weather database is going to be available to you in real time in your simulator.
So say that today is too bad of a day for me to go out flying. This is the perfect example. It is too bad of a day for me to go out flying. It’s foggy outside, it’s raining, it’s snowing, whatever it is, it’s just not going to work. I’m not gonna actually get to go fly a real airplane. That said, I can jump into my simulator that I built, my professional simulator, and I can fly in realistic weather that is exactly what is like as outside and I can do so at my local airport with some pretty good 3D scenery there and everything. I can fly the real procedures, all that sort of stuff at my local airport, but one of the biggest sell factors of a simulator is the fact that we can do that realistic weather. So just know that realistic weather is a big part of these real scenarios and again, because we’re approaching the simulator with professionalism, we can make certain judgment calls in terms of if we would take that flight or not.
Now, with all of the professionalism stuff said, obviously if you’re going to take a flight in a real airplane, you would not do certain things. You wouldn’t go into certain weather. If you can compartmentalize for yourself and be very clear that a simulator is different from a real airplane, you will be able to do things like go in conditions that you may not usually fly in and so that you can become more comfortable just in case you’re building toward that or you eventually get in those conditions or whatever it is. In other words, there are such things minimums in regulations in whatever governing agency you’re flying under. So the FAA has certain minimum recommendations or requirements, not recommendations, for approaches and things like that, and then there are personal minimums.
Now this is something that’s talked about a lot in pilot circles that we need to have our own personal minimus based on how often we fly and how sharp our skills are. So say that your personal minimums are a lot higher than the FAA minimums for example and you want to get down, you want to get down to the minimums on the approach chart. You want to get to that level of being comfortable. That’s where s a simulator comes in and allows you to practice those procedures over and over and over again in a safe environment, okay?
So, that’s one thing, is the weather. You can fly somewhere new. Say that you are flying around your local airport too much and you want to go to an area in the world and just fly somewhere new. That’s totally possible. And really, you start to expand your horizons there because then you can start to look into some really interesting instrument procedures that you can do and build your repertoire of different approaches and intermittent fixes and initial approach fixes to the approach environment and all sorts of stuff. I mean, really as you open up your world, you get a greater variety and a very experienced pilot gets that variety by going to and fro to different locations. However with a simulator, you can simulate that by doing it right here in your own simulator by teleporting if you will to different parts of the world to practice different things.
If you feel so inclined, you can even practice things that you will be doing in a real airplane, meaning that if you have a crosscrountry flight coming up and you want to fly your flight plan before you actually go and do the real flight, you can totally do that sort of thing too. So you can definitely do that sort of thing. And simulators are particularly good at instrument conditions and so if you are especially trying to stay sharp on your instrument procedures, you are just getting into your instrument training, you need a simulator. I mean, this will save you so much time and money to have a simulator and it will also help you build a lot of confidence in your skills because you can do everything in a simulator. You can do the departures, the arrivals, the approaches, the holds, all of those procedures you can get down to where they are second nature and you’re not behind the airplane all the time so a very, very useful tool.
Alright so we’ve talked a lot about the approaches, we’ve talked about real world weather. Of course we’ve talked about the professionals. And what about communications. A lot of people struggle with communications. So there are some very, very fantastic tools to use for communications. I think the best and most professional tool, the most consistently professional tool is a program called PilotEdge. PilotEdge is a real network of air traffic controllers where you can plug into and these are people that are essentially on the other side of the screen if you will and they are virtually guiding traffic. And they are on staff at certain hours and you can guarantee that they are in that location. So say that you are flying into a, you’re going into an airport or going into a training scenario and you want to be sure that communications is most definitely part of that training scenario. This is where PilotEdge comes in. It’s highly reliable because it is a commercial service and it’s great.
Now, there is free tool. It’s called VATSIM, Virtual Air Traffic Simulation. However, VATSIM is a volunteer organization. It’s less professional. You’re not guaranteed coverage and it’s pretty sparse on coverage as well. So it’s a great network, it’s definitely meant for gamers than it is for professional pilots, people that are using a simulator as a training tool, but it still is a great place to be if you have no other options and it’s a great place to be if you’re doing really long crosscountry flights. The limit to PilotEdge is that it’s only available right now in the Southern California region. So you can’t necessarily fly anywhere you are in the nation but you can guarantee that if you want to do a scenario, you can build that scenario within Southern California and you can have that done. I think it even extends into Vegas and a few other places but in that general region okay.
So, say that you’ve done a lot of these things, you loaded the real world weather, you practiced a lot of these instrument stuff, you have communications, well, what about if you are actually in the training course right now to become a pilot you’re working on your instrument rating or commercial whatever it is. How about working something directly from your syllabus that’s gonna be coming up next or something that will be coming up eventually. So that gives you the opportunity to be ahead of where your lessons are so that when you get there, you’re not necessarily literally learning on the fly but you have already gone through some of those maneuvers, you understand how things are working, and you get a few steps ahead of where you are. That is going to benefit you greatly in moving forward in your training. So I challenge you to look at that as well. Bring up your syllabus, see where you’re at next. Even ask your instructor “Hey, I have this great simulator at home. I want to practice a few things. What is it I can practice right now? Whether it be skills that I’m not great at that you’ve noticed or what stuff is coming up for us that I can start to look into and study and practice. So that could be something that you do.
Okay, so another thing is to fly in the airplane that you fly. So the great thing about simulation these days is that there are a lot of software packages out there that you can add on to your simulator that you can essentially fly almost any airplane out there. So regardless if it’s a V-Tail 35 Bonanza or a Cessna-152 or a 172, or a Corvalis or a Cirrus, whatever it is, there are simulations out there at least add-on packages to the simulations that you can use. So that is incredibly helpful. Some of you are flying with Foreflight. If you are a pilot, you probably have Foreflight on your iPad or iPhone, something like that. Foreflight is a fantastic tool and Foreflight can connect to these simulators to give all the data that is coming from a simulator so weather, I believe weather. Actually probably not weather but the point there is that if you are flying real time with a realistic weather, then it should be realistically depicted in Foreflight. Foreflight will have the current position air speed, tract of your aircraft, all that cool stuff and there is the ability to hook up with Foreflight with a couple programs out there. So that’s possible.
So that kind of wraps up how to practice real world scenarios or how to bring that in to your simulation. I think this is probably the most important part of my presentation here, is practice those real world scenarios. There are limitless opportunities to do that in a simulator so that was number 3.
Alright number 4. Learn something new. Imagine that. What new thing can you learn in a simulator? Obviously by going through and practicing real world scenarios and going to different places and doing things like that, different procedures, there is a lot to learn that is new. Of course, that is apparent. So you could fly in another country. You could fly at nearby airports that you’re unfamiliar with. You could again, try different procedures that you haven’t done before. So that is definitely something that I encourage you to do with a simulator, is try to branch out your knowledge and try different things, fly different places and build your knowledge of that system. And that can even go down to you having read a recent book or a recent article on flying and that kind of interested you in that area and so now you want to go and try it out. Those are great, great, great things to do with a simulator.
Use a simulator as something that can appease your curiosity as an aviator. So this is a place where a safe environment where in a limitless amount you can over and over and over again bring new experiences into your pilot knowledge by going those different places and doing those different things. And I tel you, that will really, really help you in your real world training.
Alright, so last and 5th. Schedule it just like real flights. So I would encourage you to make it a habit to fly regularly with your simulator if you weren’t flying regularly with your real airplane. So I would even encourage you to fly regularly with your simulator if you have a real airplane and if you are flying regularly in a real airplane because it is something that helps out so much. It can help you build your repertoire even more. So very, very helpful. Again, make it a habit. Set aside the time to make this happen. Maybe it’s once a week, maybe it’s twice a week. The great thing about a simulator is you don’t necessarily have to do a full flight from front to back. Say that you just want to work on certain approach procedures, you can do that. You can get it and just do the approach procedures and you can continually reset things too.
So say that you’re working on holding pattern entries. You could set up a scenario for different entries to the holding pattern and you can just reload those over and over and over again and so you can practice some and so you can get them right every single time. So that’s definitely doable as well. Make sure that when you set up your flights and you schedule these flights and when you’ve made it a habit and set aside time that you make this an uninterrupted thing that you can do, that your family knows, that your girlfriend or boyfriend knows, that you are going to be out. So I would make sure that your notifications are off in your phone, your computer, whatever it is. Make sure that this is where you reality is for that allotted time. That means you will be able to focus, you will be able to learn at your highest ability, and it will be just the best way to utilize that time.
So, I know that I said you could reload things too. I know that I said that you could jump into that holding pattern entry thing and reload that but also remember that you can do full flights from front to back, from preflight to everything, all the way to the end, and a lot of those steps in between are things we take for granted and after a while we become less sharp. So just remember to sometimes just do a full flight if you have the time. But if you are short on time, then work on your weakest skills or at least go through different skills and work on them one at a time. So I think that would be a great idea.
So in summary what have we covered. We’ve talked about the cost of entry number one, and that’s about 2000 dollars for a nice set up, from everything from a PC to a monitor to a mouse and keyboard, to the flight controls. So about 2000 dollars for a setup. Number two, approach with professionalism. Remember, this isn’t a toy. It’s a professional tool and that is its purpose. I think if you approach it with that respect, you’ll get out of it a whole lot of different respect back, so you’re going to get a lot out of the simulator by treating it that way.
Number three, practice real world procedures. We spent most of our time here. There are many, many tools out there that can help you fly like it’s the real thing from the real weather to the communications with PilotEdge, to the real airplanes that you can fly with to using Foreflight along with your flight, to make it as realistic as possible. So many things you can use to help you there. And then learn something new. Expand your knowledge, step outside your comfort zone. This is a big world especially in the simulation world where you can just jump from one place to the other and learn different things. So that can be very helpful. And again last but certainly not least, schedule it just like a real flight. Approach with as much seriousness as you do with everything with a real flight and fly with a simulator as much as you want to fly with a real airplane. And if you guys do this here during the winter months or whenever you find that you are not flying often enough, I promise you that you will be able to stay sharp as a pilot, that when you get in the cockpit again, that you will be ahead of those that didn’t use a simulator, way ahead of those that didn’t use a simulator, and that you’re going to be just much better off as a pilot. Safer sticking to those minimums that you have and just overall you can be trusted in an airplane not only with yourself but with your loved ones, whatever it is, and we do that by being excellent, by having a simulator that has really good stools that we treat with professionalism and that we use often.
So, flight simulators are an incredible tool these days. I encourage you guys that if you don’t have one, go out and get it. If you do have one and you haven’t been using, sweep the dust off of it, get it back up and running, do what you have to do, if you are already doing everything I’ve been saying there, great job, two thumbs up, keep it up. I’m sure that you guys could give this a thumbs up as well because this is something that really works.
So that’s it. If you guys have any questions, as always you can reach out to me at email@example.com. And that will get directly to me. So again, any questions, send them that way. We’re going to have a few messages here before we close out the show. Hope you guys enjoyed it.
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Chris: Alright guys. A big thanks for joining us today on this episode of AviatorCast. You guys are absolutely awesome. We couldn’t do this without you. Thanks for joining us week after week. Next week we’ll have another fantastic episode for you. We look forward to that. Until next time, throttle on!
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