Using Flight Simulators for IFR Training (Part 3)

Welcome to the last of a three part series on instrument flying with a home simulator. Instrument flying can be intimidating for many pilots, yet a simulator can build confidence as well as understanding when it comes to the IFR realm. Part three will cover challenging emergencies to practice in a simulator as well as best practices for a home simulator. 

Emergencies to Practice

  • Partial Panel –  You’re finishing up a long cross country in instrument flight conditions and before you start descending from your enroute altitude, your attitude indicator goes lopsided and a warning flag pops up… Would you declare an emergency? Request assistance from ATC? Or would you continue the flight as planned and divy up the extra bandwidth to the other instruments? With practice you can get to that last option and get to the point where you can accurately control vertical speed as well as heading and roll rate without an attitude indicator. Take the “this is really bad” mindset to “darn.”
  • Unusual Attitude RecoveriesA common first link in the error chain when a VFR pilot accidentally flies into Instrument Meteorological Conditions is a subtle entry into an unusual attitude. It’s very easy to recognize we’re in a bank when we can see the horizon in front of us, but in instrument conditions with spatial disorientation working against our senses, we have to put a lot of faith into understanding and reacting to our instruments. Try recovering from a 15 degree nose down and 10 degree left bank with full power in IMC. Next, trim your plane out for enroute flight, close your eyes and apply a few pounds of back pressure on your yoke for five seconds and give half right rudder for three seconds. Open your eyes and recover before losing control. 
  • Electrical Failure at NightInstrument night flying is difficult enough but what would you do if your electrical system failed? Brush up on FAR 91.185(c) to review the legal designations for route, altitude, and when you can leave your clearance limit without a working radio in instrument conditions. Next see if you can land the aircraft with the remaining flight indications left after your aircraft’s electronics go dark. (X-Plane has an “aviation light” option for illuminating the flight deck in this scenario). 
  • Flying into a Thunderstorm – Unless you’re Bob Buck in a B-17, you’ll never fly into a thunderstorm intentionally. I remember associating the leading anvil edge of a thunderstorm with the big red X. In a simulator, we can dip our toe into the dangerous waters of flying through or around a thunderstorm and gain a new appreciation for maneuvering speed. Try to keep your altitude and heading in a Cessna 172 while flying through a thunderstorm. This will be the proverbial touching of the hot stove, and hopefully instill a healthy respect for wide clearance of these weather buildups in real life flying. 

Conclusion and Best Practices

The FAA has made it clear that they recognize Instrument flying as a diminishing skill per the recency requirements outlined in FAR 61.57(c). Home-built flight simulators offer great value to IFR pilots, even if we can’t log time or approaches in our logbook while using them. We’ll be able to keep all the micro tasks efficient and fluid, which in turn leads to positive execution of the macro flight commands. If a student pilot wants to reduce hours spent earning their instrument rating, an active pilot is on the verge of accruing instrument flying rust, or any aviator wants to better understand how to fly without reference to the ground, today’s home flight simulators offer immense value. 

We hope you enjoyed this three part series on using an at home simulator for instrument flying. For more instrument content, check out Sporty’s IFR month landing page. Best of luck on keeping the blue side up and have fun digitally flying.

Using Flight Simulators for IFR Training (Part 2)

Using Flight Simulators for IFR Training (Part 3)