Flight simulators offer multiple avenues to saving hours during flight training, or keeping specific maneuvers sharp. For a new user it can be difficult to configure these flight sim programs to the desired flight details. Enjoy two free one hour classes from Flight Sim Coach exclusively for Sporty’s customers that will cover the basics of Microsoft Flight Simulator as well as X-Plane. Each class includes 45 minutes of on screen presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. Best part is they’re completely free. We hope to see you there!
- Getting Started: Learn how to calibrate your flight controls and optimize control sensitivities
- Graphics: Understand frame rate and the factors that affect it
- Cockpit Interaction: Learn how to interact with the cockpit (zooming, panning, and radio tuning)
- Training tools: Intro to replay mode and online ATC
- Q&A: With any remaining time, we will answer your questions about these popular programs!
Microsoft Flight Simulator Course (9/30/2023 : 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Eastern)
X-Plane Flight Simulator Course (9/30/2023 : 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM Eastern)
In 1979 the first mainstream home flight simulator program from subLogic became available to early adopters of the personal computer. FS1 was “capable of drawing 150 lines per second” and allowed the user to fly around in a slightly modernized Sopwith Camel. Fast forward to today and we have vivid representations of the entire globe at our disposal. We can quickly edit the weather in our simulator to reflect a challenging day’s METAR, we can practice checklists, or even practice maneuvers and rewind/review the simulation to critique our methods and identify problem areas.
And yet too often a simulator is fired up without an objective and we find ourselves buzzing the tower in a F/A-18 Super Hornet or touring the Grand Canyon in a Piper Cub. This blog will focus on affordable ways to turn an at-home simulator into a valuable training tool for pilots. There are plenty of articles about hardware options to build a simulator setup—we’re going to focus on how you can use your setup once it’s complete.
Sporty’s Flight Sim Training Guide – A TCO or Training Course Outline was instrumental to every flight during my training. It helped me to understand what I could expect during the lesson, the maneuvers we would fly in the aircraft, and locations for extra reading or review. Now you can bring that same structure to your simulator flights, with our detailed Flight Sim Training Guides—digital versions of what’s used by each student pilot training at Sporty’s Academy, our flight school. The Private Pilot Flight Sim Training Guide is included within Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course and includes 14 detailed lessons. The Instrument Rating Flight Sim Training Guide is available in Sporty’s Instrument Rating Course and entails 22 lessons with 6 additional challenging approaches. You’ll need to load the simulator, but these give you the outline for a productive and educational flight. Both Training Course Outlines were designed with Microsoft Flight Simulator in mind, but they’re easily usable with X-Plane, Prepare3D or Infinite Flight.
X-Plane Scenarios – The X-Plane scenarios go one step beyond the Flight Sim Training Guide by automatically placing your digital airplane at the start of each maneuver. Each of the 24 maneuvers include a briefing, a description of the desired results, a control setting prompt, and a quick transition into the maneuver after the digital instructor hands over the flight controls. Relevant video tips are also included for course users to prepare you for the maneuver. Maneuvers range from soft field takeoffs to short field takeoffs with 50’ obstacles to emergency approaches. These scenarios are compatible with X-Plane 12.
TakeFlight Interactive Training Course – For the ultimate sim training experience, try TakeFlight Academy, real, artificial intelligence-based practical flight training, with the same guidance of a human flight instructor. When you select a maneuver, the Virtual Flight Instructor loads the emulator with the aircraft preconfigured, pre-positioned, and ready to fly. Each lesson provides a detailed briefing, verbal guidance, and real-time feedback used on your performance followed by a detailed objective scoring. You’ll know exactly how you did, and where to improve. TakeFlight Academy is an instructional overlay on your simulator and works with X-Plane 11 & 12, Lockheed Martin Prepar3D V4 & V5, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Review video here.
Flight Sim Coach – If you’re extremely committed to using a home simulator while in flight training, it’s worth exploring Flight Sim Coach. They’re a team of real world pilots who are flight sim savvy and offer remote instruction for digital aviators. Their courses offer live group courses similar to a digital classroom environment, or one-on-one coaching plans to assist in conquering learning plateaus. The team at Flight Sim Coach are able to digitally fly with users of X-Plane 11, X-Plane 12 or Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Introductory Video Here.
When factoring in Moore’s Law for computing power, today’s flight sim devices have 4,194,304 times the computing power of that first generation program, FS1. Digital pilots can spend many hours (very guilty) flying challenging maneuvers, instrument approaches, challenging weather conditions, as well as a multitude of other training tasks. When a student pilot uses a simulator to better perform a task that is required knowledge within their aircraft, the ability to save training time has never been as cost effective.
(This article as well as the Honeycomb Bravo Profiles for X-Plane 12 have been updated as of 4/5/2023)
X-Plane is referred to as the “most realistic flight simulator” by PC Gamer and is continuously recommended by seasoned simmers when asked what’s the best simulator for at-home use. From a hardware standpoint, the Honeycomb Bravo is one of the most popular flight sim pieces out there. Within minutes we can change the levers on the Honeycomb Bravo from a single engine GA aircraft such as a Cessna 172 into a four engine commercial airliner (think a Boeing 747).
The challenge is making sure that our new hardware configuration is understood by X-Plane 12, which can be a tedious task each time we make a lever change. For that reason, Sporty’s provides preconfigured airplane profiles for X-Plane 12 that will make the transition between different aircraft seamless.
Instructions for installing Sporty’s Honeycomb Bravo Profiles with X-Plane 12
The first thing we want to do is find the X-Plane 12 root folder. This is where the X-Plane application is located as well as additional folders instrumental to the program.
Next, open up the “Output.zip” folder that is included in your “Thank you” email for your purchase of the Honeycomb Bravo. Double click the .zip file and you should create a folder labeled “Output”
Drag the “Output” folder into your X-Plane root folder and drop it in a blank area of the root folder.
The Output folder’s content direction will port the profiles into the “control profiles” section of your X-Plane folder. You can double check that the files reached their destination by clicking the “Output” folder in your root folder -> “preferences” folder -> “control profiles” folder:
Start up X-Plane 12, navigate to the Joystick Settings page and you will have five new Honeycomb Bravo profiles (each labeled V.2 indicating the updated profiles) within your “Active Profile” drop down box:
Below are the Honeycomb Bravo lever configurations that will coordinate with the five preconfigured profiles:
These profiles will accommodate the correct levers and their intended purposes—the trim wheel, gear lever, and flap lever will operate as preferred. The autopilot commands are limited but the main buttons (HDG, NAV, APR, REV, ALT, VS, IAS) will set the applicable modes in the digital aircraft’s profile and the Increase/Decrease knob to the right of these buttons will increase or decrease the selected vertical speed commands in increments of 100 FPM. The “AUTO PILOT” button on the far right side of the Bravo acts as an “autopilot disconnect” command. Lastly, the Commercial Engine configurations will apply thrust reverser mode when the levers are full aft and reverser latches are pulled up.
A link to download these preconfigured profiles will be provided on your order receipt page when purchasing a Honeycomb Bravo Throttle from Sporty’s Pilot Shop.
We hope these profiles help you to enjoy using the Honeycomb Bravo Throttle Quadrant with X-Plane 12 and have fun digitally flying!
Home flight simulators offer a wealth of training situations to sharpen a pilot’s aircraft operating skills. Instrument flying is one of the most valuable scenarios we can practice in a standard home simulator that will translate to the physical aircraft. Join Sporty’s own Chris McGonegle as he covers how to configure Instrument flights in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and X-Plane 12.
- Navigating MSFS and X-Plane 12
- Setting live weather
- Advantageous simulator scenarios
- Best practices to train rather than game
- Video of an instrument approach down to minimums
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 Recoveries – A 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 Night – Instrument 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.
Welcome to the second 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 two will cover useful tasks to practice in a simulator as well as helpful maneuvers that make use of those tasks.
Instrument Flight Useful Scenarios / Maneuvers
Flight simulators today are leagues ahead of where they were just a decade ago. The computing power of an average PC paired with readily available graphics cards and simulator programs make it a great time to enjoy at-home training. One of the best categories of simulator that has enjoyed recent upgrades is the weather emulator. We can now control types of clouds, bases and ceilings of these clouds, wind speeds, direction and gust factors. We can control the barometric pressure setting and temperature at our airport (great for density A=altitude experiments) as well as visibility and precipitation. Never has there been such a detailed meteorological simulator for the general public, and we have the ability to critique our instrument flying habits in any situation we would like. Here are a few scenarios or tasks that we like to practice.
- Instrument Scan – This may seem like a monotonous task but it’s the bedrock of a proficient instrument pilot’s flying. Having a steady technique and understanding what those instruments are indicating, as well as picking up on slight changes before they become significant differences is what keeps you safe. Try flying in the clouds without the autopilot and strengthen the instrument scan muscle. Reduce the workload with a transition to a glass panel from steam gauges.
- Avionics Operations – Learning the ins and outs of a computer’s operating logic can be challenging in itself. Trying to learn an operating system while flying an airplane, that’s like reading a book while juggling. Get a better sense of what a GPS unit can do while using a simulator and watch how “Direct To” commands or “Nearest” selections change as your flight progresses. Move on to loading approaches and activating them at the appropriate time, just as you would in the aircraft. The many different aircraft available in today’s simulators provide a wide variety of avionics packages, so you’ll be hard pressed to not find something similar to your airplane.
- Autopilot Operations – Proficiency with an autopilot allows a pilot to focus on other aspects of a flight and reduce our workload… but only if they are accustomed to autopilot operations. Better acquaint yourself with the features of an autopilot and how they can assist in flying approaches, entering holds, or assisting on climbs. Dust off the old pilot’s operating handbook supplements. How far into an approach can we use the autopilot? Can we use it on a go-around? Enjoy practicing those legal minimums in the simulator.
- Approach Brief – An approach brief helps us to prepare and verify the important facets of a landing prior to descending towards terra firma. Repetition is our friend here and getting to the point where it’s fast and succinct is the goal. Your confidence will improve with a reduction in perspiration when you can quickly brief an approach into unique / new airports, as well as the aircraft’s performance and contingency plans.
Maneuvers to Practice
- 0/0 Takeoff – Those previously mentioned rudder pedals will come in handy when you need to hold centerline on takeoff and can only see the next 20 feet of the centerline. This maneuver is not an everyday event, but it’s a great one to practice as a student. Speed control, heading control, and lack of reference to the ground is a high pucker factor maneuver when single pilot IFR. This is a good one to practice a few times before real life application.
- Course Intercepts – Professional pilots need to be great navigators. Passengers may not notice it but fellow pilots will pick up on the full dot course deflection indication when rolling out on a new heading if you don’t know what you’re doing. Practice this maneuver in a slow flight configuration as well as a fast pace. Next try the maneuver with a paltry 10 degree intercept angle, then take it to the advised limit of a 45 degree intercept. Add another layer by intercepting a VOR radial 30 NMs away and then 3 NMs away.
- Holding Entries – With improvements in the Air Traffic Control system, we hope to never enter a hold… But sometimes Mother Nature requires it if our fuel tanks allow it. Critique holding proficiency by entering the circuit with a direct entry, a teardrop entry, and a parallel entry. Once you have the entries down pat, connect ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot to your simulator and review your consistency in creating a symmetrical race track pattern when viewed from above. For a final challenge, throw a 20 knot wind perpendicular to the inbound leg and work on the wind correction technique.
- Approach Down to Minimums – One of the greatest features of using a simulator for instrument flying is we can precisely set cloud profiles as well as flight visibility for our next mission. Fly a familiar approach with no clouds but the visibility down to the absolute minimum range. Next fly the same approach with unlimited visibility but take the overcast cloud layer down to the minimums for that approach. Lastly, layer both challenges into a single flight and see what it’s like to fly the approach on the worst advisable weather scenario for that airport. It’ll raise your heartbeat a little bit.
- Missed Approach – When executing a missed approach in VFR conditions it is usually due to a bad approach, gusty wind, or a vehicle/animal that makes its way onto the runway. We have a view of the horizon and we’ll comfortably climb out while retracting flaps for either another lap in the pattern or another airport. When flying IFR it’s a little different: when reaching the missed approach point and having no reference to the airport outside the windscreen, we have to fly a go-around with reference only to instruments, while flying a missed approach route that usually concludes in a hold (hopefully you practiced those entry procedures), also while operating the radios and communicating your intentions. The Aviate, Navigate, Communicate hierarchy is important to remember in these scenarios.
- Challenging Approaches! – When factoring in approach fixes and terrain, I feel confident saying that no two instrument approaches are the same. Each one will require different briefings, missed approach procedures, comm frequencies, etc. Additionally when transitioning to the approach from the south at altitude X, then flying the same approach from the north at altitude X+2000’, it’s a different start to the procedure. Whether pulling from Flying Magazine’s Chart Wise category or online articles highlighting challenging approaches, there is no lack of challenges for the digital instrument pilot.
For more instrument content, check out Sporty’s IFR month landing page. Part three of this series will focus on emergencies to practice in a simulator.