New book: ‘Scenario-Based Training’

Former General Aviation News editor Bruce Williams has released his latest book, “Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator: Using PC-Based Flight Simulations Based on FAA-Industry Training Standards.” GAN’s Publisher Ben Sclair took a few minutes recently to find out more about the new book:

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I wrote a book on a similar topic in 2007, but a lot has changed in the last five years, and many flight instructors and pilots are still confused about the best way to use PC-based simulations to complement flight training and maintain proficiency.

Many aviators continue to under-utilize PC-based flight simulations, largely because they have misconceptions about simulations versus simulators. Pilots also tend to think of simulators (and simulations) as tools for practicing abnormal and emergency procedures as substitutes for an aircraft. Simulations can be used effectively for many more training purposes.

There’s increased interest in using new simulations and training devices in flight training, for example, programs based on using the Redbird devices.

The FAA and the industry are expanding the use of FAA-Industry Training Standards and Scenario-Based Training concepts. For example, the new practical test standards for the private and commercial pilot certificates (effective June 1, 2012) explicitly call for extensive use of scenarios in training and evaluating pilots.

Q: How much do you think a typical student might be able to save (time and money) working with “Scenario-Based Training”?

A: The FAA allows only limited credit for the use of ATDs, but a student (in particular, a private pilot or instrument student) can save a lot of time (and therefore money) if PC-based simulations are used wisely and under the direction of a CFI. They’ll train more efficiently and use actual flight time (or time spent in an approved flight training device) more effectively.

Q: What are the top three benefits to “Scenario-Based Training” via simulation software?

A: The FAA and the industry are increasingly emphasizing the use of scenarios during training and to evaluate pilots on practical tests. Simulations are the ideal platform for becoming familiar with and applying the principles behind scenario-based training. An instructor can create (and repeat) scenarios without having to consider the real-world weather, local airspace and airports, and so forth. Simulation-based scenarios can emphasize the goals for a particular lesson without interference from other factors. Students can practice in a comfortable environment without the stress involved in a real flight. After students understand specific concepts and procedures, they can then confidently demonstrate them in flight. Of course, using simulations is far less expensive than flying, especially when you are practicing such tasks as navigation, dealing with unexpected circumstances, diversions, and so forth.

Q: What are the top three drawbacks?

A: Obviously, beginning students need stick time in a real aircraft to develop basic flying skills. They also need to be exposed to the real flying environment as they progress in their training. There’s no substitute for actual flying time, especially early in the training process. And, even with all the emphasis on scenarios, sometimes you just need to practice crosswind landings or instrument approaches.

When used improperly, simulations can cause all of the general learning problems, such as interference, described in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook. You have to be aware of when and how a simulation differs from the aircraft and work around that. It’s often best to use simulations like X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator to learn about and practice basic concepts and procedures that apply, regardless of the type of airplane you fly or the suite of avionics in the panel.

Related to the point above is what I call the “flight simulator paradox.” PC-based simulations have become so realistic and compelling that pilots often want to use them only as if they were full-fledged flight training devices or simulators — again, only as substitutes for an aircraft. They then get frustrated by or discount the value of PC-based simulations because the simulations can’t completely replicate the feel of flying or all of the specific functions of a particular instrument panel.

Pilots get so wrapped up in trying to turn a PC-based simulation into a simulator that they often miss the technology’s best and most effective uses. For example, a PC-based simulation can add interactive elements to a ground-school lecture or preflight discussion. You can even fly virtually over the web, saving the customer a trip to the airport. And simulations can help keep a student engaged when weather or mechanical issues postpone actual training flights.

That’s really the ultimate message in “Scenario-Based Training.” I focused on X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator because they’re the most common and least-expensive flight simulations available, but you could use the book as part of a ground-school course, adapt the lessons for flight lessons in an aircraft, or use the scenarios with any FTD or ATD.

The scenarios that form the bulk of the book are really lesson plans. Most of them involve typical flights that give you the opportunity to learn, practice, and polish specific skills and gradually become comfortable with the flying environment. The challenges aren’t just abnormal conditions, equipment failures, and emergencies, however. I’ve included many real-world distractions and problems, such as an airsick passenger or a disabled aircraft blocking the runway you planned to use, to help you apply knowledge and skills to situations you’ll encounter even on routine flights.

In other words, simulations are most useful in helping you learn to think like a pilot, and I wrote “Scenario-Based Training” to help instructors, students, and pilots easily use PC-based simulations to complement flight training.

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