How do you brief a flight to an airport or an area you’ve never been before? Do you brief that trip at all?
Back when I learned to fly in the 1980s, a sectional chart and maybe a road atlas were all we had.
My Dad and I used to joke about flying several hundred miles to exactly where we intended and then sometimes struggle to find the actual airport. In today’s world of moving map technology paired with GPS, finding the airport is among the least of our problems.
At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, I circled “Flight Practice with Mobile Tech” on the extensive list of forums I planned to attend. I’m glad I did.
Steve Thorne, aka FlightChops, paired with Laura Laban, co-founder of Infinite Flight, a mobile flight simulator, to co-host the forum about the tools they use to practice flying.
FlightChops has made a name for himself by filming his flights and using them to actively debrief. Deft editing for lessons learned and entertainment have made Steve a household name in the aviation world thanks to his humility and YouTube.
Laura grew up in France. Like many, she started “flying” via Microsoft’s Flight Simulator software. She logged thousands of hours. On her first “real” flight lesson, some distance from the airport, her instructor asked if she could navigate back to the airport. Laura, much to the shock of her instructor, tuned the ADF and tracked the needle back to the airport — something she’d simulated countless times.
“Students with sim experience are far ahead of those without,” said Laura during the forum.
For such a tech savvy duo, the presentation was very low tech. Steve and Laura literally passed the microphone back and forth telling their side of each point they hoped to make.
Much of the discussion was scenario based. Steve uses Infinite Flight to brief an approach plate in ForeFlight. He can simulate the entire approach so when he does it for real, he’s already been there and done that. That helps him tremendously as he works toward his instrument rating, he said.
But the example that most resonated with me was one Laura offered. She’d just bought a plane and was flying it to California.
Before a leg from Southern Oregon to Redding, California, Laura “flew” the flight using Infinite Flight. Based on the look of the terrain, she elected to take a coastal route as opposed to flying over — and through — some of the most rugged mountains on the west coast.
Take a look at the detail Infinite Flight offers and I think you’ll agree this is an amazing tool for seeing what you’ll see when you actually hop in the cockpit.
For Laura, being able to visually see what she was preparing to fly over — and through — gave her the information and confidence to select a route better in tune with her personal minimums.
During the forum I wrote in my notebook, “Does this take the serendipity/adventure away from flying?” I mean, if you’ve already flown it, is the adventure muted?
Upon further reflection … No. Visualization is a proven technique that works for athletes and aviators alike.
Walk into any flight school and you’re likely to find a poster of a plane’s cockpit (probably taken in front of Sporty’s) to be used to simulate or visualize a procedure of some sort.
But nothing matches — or beats — actually flying the flight. For real.
But then again, Dad and I would’ve had to find something else to joke about. Fear not, we had plenty of material.
Richard T Newman says
I set up ChinookFlight 9 years ago with a Redbird Simulator. With it, I’ve reduced the number of airplane hours needed for people to acquire their Private and Instrument, with an average of 42 for private with a 98% first time pass rate and barely 41 for the instrument with over 99% first time pass.
Yet, Simulation is shoved to the back by other training facilities: Instructors only want FLIGHT TIME and schools need those planes flying to cover costs.
I remember back when I was doing my primary flight training and the instructor was surprised that I was doing so well “under the hood”. I told him that I had a few hundred hours on Atari flight sims and the graphics were so primitive that you had no choice but to fly by the instruments. With the advanced graphics on PC flight sims these days that is not an issue anymore, but I think the basic point that flight sims can be a valuable training tool is spot on. A sim can’t replace actual flight experience (the holodeck hasn’t been invented yet), but it can definitely augment that experience.
neil cosentino says
PROBLEM – DOD states we need more pilots, we agree, we need only the best selection to fly our $330 million fighters.
SOLUTION – DOD can act asap by requiring every military base to require that base commander to use MWR funds [ not public taxes ] to establish an aero club on-base of there is a runway and off base at the nearest airport. The funding would be used to buy aircraft and setup in a manner that the aeroclubs become self funding-operation in a set period of time, let locals citizens join if there is not provite aeroclub available…Please contact your Senators and your member of the House of Representatives. at the state and in Congress.
Neil, there USED to be numerous aero clubs associated with USAF bases but their number has dwindled substantially from when I started flying at the Beale AFB Aero Club in 1971. Even major bases have seen their clubs close … e.g., Wright-Patterson AFB. I was also a member of a USMC Aero Club at El Toro, CA for a time. The Army had them, too. I guess lack of sufficient interest coupled with rising costs and the requirement for the Clubs to be self-sufficient under MWR rules are the culprit? I earned pvt, commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings at Beale and at Buckley ARB (now AFB). Total cost to me after using VA benefits IN service … $2K. At Edwards AFB, a C182RG that I bought for that Club in 1982 (as the club mx officer) is STILL serving and is part of the USAF Test Pilot school curriculum.
There IS some hope, however. The USAF has now re-established enlisted pilots. They’re hand picked seasoned enlisted and are required to go through the very same initial training that regular USAF pilots do but are sidestepped after primary training to the drone courses. Most ARE already pilots, as you opine They’re already on the job and the USAF intends on training about 100 of them. They are relieving the “real” pilots to go back to regular cockpits.
Where I see the need to write Congress is to expand THAT program. Not every pilot in the USAF needs to have a Masters degree in Aero and go through Test Pilot School. Beyond that, enlisted members that are currently IN the USAF have a proven record of performance and attitude and training and are the perfect candidates for selection to fly lower end airplanes like helicopters and etc. The notion that everyone that fills a cockpit must be an officer with a degree is just plain skipping over thousands of people who’d love to be given the chance to fly.
Maybe the shortage — although now they’re saying they’ve “fixed” it — will help that notion happen? I’m not sure I buy this, however. At Airventure 2019, I noticed that the USAF was flying numerous times a day in A-10, F-22, F-35 et al and had numerous airframes on display on the ground. I’d never seen so much participation by USAF in the 38 years I’ve attended Airventure. Chief of Staff Gen Goldfein gave a talk in the Theatre in the Woods on Saturday night where the central theme WAS that they need more pilots. Either way, the enlisted force needs to have a better pathway to a cockpit .. the USAF IS myopic in that regard. I had hundreds of hours by the time I was 24 years old but by the time I had achieved a degree IN service, I was too old. They missed out using a guy who woulda been a rabid flyer (me). Too late now … but not for the younger guys currently in-service. Gen. Goldfein .. are ya listening ??
don draper, ATP 1212754 says
Just a short, one-word correction, Larry. ” Not ‘every’ pilot in the USAF needs to have a Masters degree” should have read ” Not ‘ANY’ pilot in the USAF needs to have a Masters degree!
I don’t disagree in principal but there are a few places where pilots need advanced degrees. Anyone hoping to go to any of the Service Test Pilot Schools would be one. Without at least a BS Engineering, you ain’t getting in to one of those.
That said, I know of an aging pilot who joined the USAF in the late 40’s with a BS in Music He was a fighter pilot for a while, got picked for the U-2 program and later went on to fly the SR-71. So THAT does support your premise.
Another problem is that many pilots JUST want to fly. They don’t want any part of being a part of the command structure and don’t want to have to do a “stint” in Washington, DC to get promoted. There was talk of having a dual track program where people like that could achieve O-4 (major) and that’d be that.
The whole point being that the path to becoming a pilot is way overblown with requirements that have no direct connection with the ability to master flying. The only place might be that anyone who ‘plays the game’ long enough to gain a degree proves that they’ll stick with something. Fine … but that cuts an awful lot of folks out of the path to becoming a pilot.
don draper, ATP 1212754 says
“Anyone hoping to go to any of the Service Test Pilot Schools would be one. Without at least a BS Engineering, you ain’t getting in to one of those!”
One of the highlights of my 70 year flying career was that I avoided the military,… almost. When the Vietnam Villainy started my two sons were nearing draft age. Feeling beholden to the young men of his generation I joined the pilots of my Air Line who were flying for the M.A.C. and spent 6 years, ’67 to ’73, flying troops & munitions between Travis and all the bases in So. Vietnam. Being civilians we were quartered in hotels just outside the gate in Guam and Okinawa and spent our layovers learning about the war from the Air America & CIA pilots in the hotel bars. I’m still ashamed of having participated in this monstrous re-establishment of our drug smuggling routes between Bombay & the Golden Triangle down through Southeast Asia on West, which were established by the OSS (CIA) in 1943,… financed by the money laundering of Obama’s grandmother who was loan Vice-President of the Bank of Hawaii.
Jim Burch says
By putting the Aeroclubs under MWR, the capital intensive nature of aircraft maintenance was destroyed by the MWR staffs diverting those funds to the supposedly self sustaining golf courses!! The working capital funds were robbed and therefore the aeroclubs could no longer complete necessary 100-hour inspections, etc!! I also was in several clubs and was on the board of directors of 3 of them.
don draper, ATP 1212754 says
Open cockpits are the best in which to learn and to fly. Learning to fly in a ‘glass’ cockpit (one with windows) is like learning to sail in a submarine!
Flight sims are less effective than learning to read, collect data and visualize a sectional. Skyvector is a great, fast way to brief flights since you can quickly navigate around the sectional and check the airports along the way and at the destination (AFD, enroute frequencies, approach plates). Skyvector also allows a quick flight route and flight plan that produces a log with all the fuel burn and winds calculated. You can’t do any of that on a flight sim. And after all, weather (also not gotten on a flight sim) and the mechanics of the route are what you SHOULD be briefing, not sitting in a simulated (and likely inaccruate) cockpit buzzing along till you fake land without any real information extracted.
Also, if enroute and you want to check a sectional a good way is to have Avare on your cell phone. Or better yet, have Foreflight or Garmin Pilot on a tablet. If you hone those skills you will be in far better position to glean the information needed to change your flight route and/or change your destination and have far more accurate and pertinent information than trying to remember something from a flight sim flight. (who tunes an ADF anymore? how about learning to use your course knob, VOR or better your heading bug, GPS, if pilotage won’t do).
Laura from Infinite Flight here, would like to respond to some of the comments:
>> Flight sims are less effective than learning to read
This directly contradicts what we’ve been hearing from instructors the whole week at Oshkosh. We’ve had many come to us saying students who had sim practice were ahead of the average pilot at the equivalent flight training time.
I also personally believe that stall/spin incident rates would go down if more people had the experience of hundreds of simulated crashes. Doing a couple of unusual attitude recoveries with a scared instructor is not helping much.
>> Skyvector also allows a quick flight route and flight plan that produces a log with all the fuel burn and winds calculated. You can’t do any of that on a flight sim.
If you’re a student, having that 2D, non interactive, non tested data in hand before your lessons only to realize you made a mistake along the way, while paying $180/hr+instructor is not optimal…
>> till you fake land without any real information extracted.
Today’s flight sims have physics that are pretty accurate (for the top sims on the market).
And you can extract the time flown, the fuel usage, winds aloft, VOR nav, possible diversion, landscape, verify the top of descent calculation, get an idea of the airport layouts, the lakes, rivers, cities you’ll fly over… And you can review that flight in ForeFlight since it connects to the app…
>> And after all, weather (also not gotten on a flight sim) and the mechanics of the route are what you SHOULD be briefing,
For weather, we already have temp, winds from metars, and winds aloft available. Clouds are coming soon and PC sims have all these features. So yes, you can do all this on a sim.
The point is that you can pre-train for your flight, do it as many times as you want for much less than it would cost in a real plane.
>> (who tunes an ADF anymore? how about learning to use your course knob, VOR or better your heading bug, GPS, if pilotage won’t do).
The ADF remark was from an anecdote from July 2000, so at a time where NDB’s were still very much a thing.
We’re also adding VOR navigation for one of our next updates. And this, I’m not sure how it could be criticized. The VOR nav concepts are quick tricky to understand for a student and being able to practice as many times as you want on a sim can only be beneficial…
>> Also, if enroute and you want to check a sectional a good way is to have Avare on your cell phone. Or better yet, have Foreflight or Garmin Pilot on a tablet. If you hone those skills you will be in far better position to glean the information needed to change your flight route and/or change your destination and have far more accurate and pertinent information than trying to remember something from a flight sim flight.
That is entirely true, and most sims today integrate with those platforms as well. Again, having changed routes many times in a sim will even better prepare you for the real thing as you could make yourself go through 20 diversions, using the sim, foreflight, live weather, etc… over the course of a week end without having it cost you a dime. I don’t see how that could be dismissed as a bad training tool.
At the end of the day, as was mentioned during that talk, the simulator is one item that is part of the tools that can be used for preparation so why not use it?
M. Rothman says
I am a retired US Air Force Pilot (and now, sometimes general aviation pilot). I have around 4000 hours or so in multiple aircraft, mostly in larger KC-135s and C-5s all over the world. I now have all the civil tickets punched and just want to share my COMPLETE agreement with, and appreciation for this technique of pre-briefing and practicing your planned flight profile! In the Air Force, we pre-briefed (and sometimes to the point of overkill, planned) every aspect of every mission/flight ever flown. We knew it backwards and forwards before ever stepping out to the aircraft. I can tell you that when carrying the President’s Marine One helicopter and/or Limousine and Comms packages in the back of my C-5 I truly felt better having “been there” once before making my first ever “actual” 15 hour flight over foreign airspace, then approach into some strange field where the President would soon be arriving. This technique is not only SMART, but SAFE. It enhances pilot awareness, makes you a better overall aviator, makes everyone around you in the air safer, and perhaps most importantly . . . it makes the journey (in my humble opinion) MORE FUN! How? Well, when I know the details of the flight ahead of time, I can be much more relaxed enroute. When I can watch things unfold as I had them planned (or at least, as I had prepared for them if not exactly as planned), then I can relax (to some degree) knowing I am ready, and I can ENJOY the experience, rather than panicking at every turn of the unknown as it unfolds in front of my eyes! Lesson learned over time – Be READY! Plan AHEAD. Know your route and your expected arrival. Plan for the unexpected. Then – Fly and have fun knowing you are prepared! It will be a MUCH more rewarding experience.
As an instructor with 6000 hrs instructting and 15,000 hours tt I disagree, if a students aim is to be an airborne computer operator and pilot maybe, If he aims to be an aviator not so perhaps
We’ve had plenty of instructors who came to us saying their students with sim experience were ahead of those we never used sims.
That’s still anecdotal, but if you read my reply above, I don’t see how that could be detrimental to flight training.
The non anecdotal part is the one where some military pilots came to us saying that in some planes now, they do the entire training on the sim, and only touch the real plane at the end when they are qualified or about to.
Also, humans are not keen on non interactive learning, especially younger generations. They have seen how technology can help them improve their skills much faster than a piece of paper ever could. And I’m not talking about the reading part, since that still needs to be done, I’m talking about the interactivity of the process.
Practicing VOR nav without an interactive tool, on paper, is *not* an optimal way to learn it. Using a sim, and practicing over and over, in an infinity of situations is orders of magnitude better than redoing the same 5 VOR nav questions on some book, or online test from the early 2000’s.
Laura … while I mostly agree with you that it can’t be detrimental to do flight sim work, MY position (after 50 years) is that a mix of hands on flying plus sim work is likely best these days. I realize that it’s expensive to fly an airplane but IF you’re serious about learning how to fly, the requirement to have the necessary funding to DO it is also required. Much of the 80% of students who drop out do so for $$ reasons primarily Of course, there are other reasons, too.
Back when I learned how to fly, I put aside the entire amount of money to do my private training such that money wasn’t an issue. Then, I attacked the task by flying, going to ground school, reading everything I could get my hands on and etc. I started in mid-June and had my private certificate in October with 75 hours of flight time. THAT is the way to do it. If sim work is now part of some of it, fine. Just DO IT !!