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.
Welcome to the first 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 one will cover why you should consider an at home simulator for instrument proficiency, as well as hardware.
One of the most common questions Sporty’s flight simulation department receives from active pilots is, “How can I log my flights at home”? The short answer is “very expensively.” Yes, it is legal to log the necessary maneuvers outlined in FAR 61.57(c)(1) – six approaches, holding procedures, course intercept and track – in the comfort of your home or office, but only when using a “full flight simulator, flight training device, or aviation training device.” These devices price out at just under $10,000 and require a lot of area to operate. They’re appealing to flight schools or museums but a very expensive way for individual pilots to add ink to their logbook, especially when factoring in per hour price of renting a trainer aircraft with an instructor.
For this article we will focus on the non-loggable flight simulator and how we can get the most out of them for instrument flying. We’ll discuss what flight sim hardware options are useful for IFR flying and a few best practices. We will not discuss computer configurations or a specific flight simulator program, as all scenarios and practices will be eligible for the big three programs (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, X-Plane, Prepar3D).
There are a lot of hardware options available to the simulator community, ranging from basic flight sticks around $40 all the way up to uber precise yokes with force feedback features costing north of a grand. I’ve learned the lesson in life that when buying a motor vehicle, you never want to go for the cheapest option, nor the most expensive option for your budget. The feature rich middle ground is where I find the most value in cars, as well as many other areas of life. We’ll apply that focus on a brief coverage of the hardware pieces we like to recommend to flight simmers.
The Logitech Flight Simulator Yoke with Throttle Quadrant is a great starting option for anyone committed to using a yoke with their simulator and will get you flying sooner. The included throttle quadrant takes care of engine management and the yoke will allow pitch and roll control of the aircraft (review video here).
The Honeycomb Alpha Flight Simulator Yoke is a noticeable upgrade from good to great and our most popular yoke here at Sporty’s. The internal cables for tension and ball bearings housing the metal shaft make this a frontrunner for someone who wants precision. The Alpha is one of the best yokes out there for under $1,000 and at a quarter of that price, it’s a heck of a deal (review video here).
One of the negatives of the Honeycomb Alpha yoke is that it doesn’t offer engine controls. To fill that void Honeycomb created… wait for it… the Bravo Throttle Quadrant, with a similar chassis to the Honeycomb Alpha. The Honeycomb Bravo is one of the most feature rich flight sim products here at Sporty’s and for that reason, it’s referred to as the Swiss army knife of hardware. Out of the box it includes levers for five different aircraft configurations (GA non complex through commercial four engine), a trim wheel, gear lever, flaps lever, annunciator panel, and a very helpful autopilot (review video here).
If you’re used to the Vernier levers associated with a Cessna 172, then it’s worth researching the Redbird Alloy Single Throttle in Vernier. This is one of the few throttle controls on the market that incorporates the unique “push/pull” or vernier style of controls, while also incorporating a landing gear control and a flaps lever control. Constructed of mainly metal, these controls fall into the professional realm when it comes to hardware but they’re a great way to bring your simulator closer to the real thing.
Flight simulator pedals may be the least used of your hardware layout, but they’re essential for using a simulator as a training device rather than a toy. Turn coordination, crosswind crabs, and controlled turns are all situations that require pedal control as well as periodic practice to keep each maneuver sharp. Our most popular pedals are the Thrustmaster Flight Rudder Pedals with counter-sliding pedals and toe brakes. They offer the basics of what you’ll need in pedals at the lowest price.
The pedals we recommend for anyone who is serious about keeping that ball centered at all times would be the Thrustmaster TPR pedals. They weigh fifteen pounds once assembled, feature customizable footwell resting angles and tension, and they incorporate a rare pedal movement/sway due to a pivot point above the pedals rather than below. They’re the highest rated pedals we offer here at Sporty’s and for their higher price, the shining reviews should say a bit about the quality (review video here).
Noteworthy IFR Accessories
- Flight Simulator Headset – The headset is a great step towards digitally flying like you would in real life, and is a great complement to a simulator when practicing communication skills. Pair these with PilotEdge or VATSIM to up the ante and talk to real people acting as ATC as you fly your digital aircraft.
- Radio Panel – Rotating the COM and NAV dial in the digital aircraft is quite challenging and commonly required when flying in IMC. The Pro Flight Radio Panel brings the radio stack onto your physical desk and streamlines the tunning process.
- Flight Simulator EFB Desk Mount – Using a tablet while flying is quickly becoming the norm these days as software eases chart management, backup AHRS, and moving maps. Using your EFB with a simulator allows you to practice scenarios or explore features on your tablet that you may not have experienced yet in the real aircraft (review video here).
- RealSimGear Avionics – Building off bringing the radio stack into the physical world, we can now do that with the avionics stack as well. Inner and outer knobs react as they would in the aircraft and the tactile silicone buttons make it as if you’re using the real thing. Select, load, or activate anapproach in the RSG GNS430 on your desk and watch the magenta line appear in your digital aircraft’s panel.
For more instrument content, check out Sporty’s IFR month landing page. Part two of this series will focus on helpful instrument tasks and maneuvers to practice in a simulator.
Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome a guest writer for this week’s flight sim update article. Jason Rosewell is a private pilot and owner of a PA-28. Jason works in Digital Marketing for Infinite Flight and is based just north of Toronto, Canada.
When it comes to instrument flying, pilots have many modern tools at their disposal to learn, practice, and stay proficient. For many weekend warriors, using tools outside the cockpit is a must if they want to keep their heads in the game. Flight simulators are an invaluable tool for instrument-rated pilots and students, but they can be bulky, and the cost can sometimes be prohibitive. This is where a mobile flight simulator like Infinite Flight on your phone or tablet can come in very handy.
Infinite Flight is an all-in-one flight simulator that uses your phone or tablet’s gyroscope and accelerometer to control pitch and roll movements. Worldwide terrain imagery and procedure data are streamed to the device, allowing you to become familiar with procedures before turning the prop.
Something that will help you right out of the gate is connecting Infinite Flight to your EFB, and it works with ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot. As long as Infinite Flight is on the same local wifi network as the EFB device, you can enable the link in settings and make sure your EFB is ready. ForeFlight will show the simulator as a Device as soon as you start a flight session. To use Garmin Pilot, some flight simulator settings need to be enabled in the Garmin Pilot app. After that, you’re good to go.
While Infinite Flight won’t allow you to practice the ins and outs of your aircraft’s GPS, it will allow you to stay proficient with your EFB. You can now load flight plans with instrument procedures into the simulator or into your EFB and share them back and forth. For example, if the goal is to fly the RNAV 34 GPS approach into Teterboro, you can load it up in ForeFlight as part of your flight plan, brief the flight, and fire up a session in Infinite Flight. Share the flight plan from ForeFlight to the simulator and fly the approach.
ForeFlight iOS app screenshot illustrating a flight plan with a hold and GPS approach with data being sent from Infinite Flight
Infinite Flight iOS app screenshot of a Cessna 172 flying a published hold and sending data to ForeFlight
Holds, navigation, and experiments
Holds can be a tricky concept for IFR students, and something instrument-rated pilots may not encounter on a regular basis. Staying proficient is a must, and practice (inside or outside the cockpit) makes the proficiency check that much easier. With Infinite Flight, you can choose to hand-fly a hold or build it into your flight plan using your EFB. Practice makes permanent! Use the simulator to practice those hold entries and gain valuable experience, even on the ground.
Depending on your location, knowing how to fly an NDB or VOR approach may be a requirement. Since this isn’t something we do every day, turning to the sim for practice can save you a lot of time and money. Navigating using VORs is equally beneficial in the simulator. With Infinite Flight’s global navigation database, mastering this skill can be done from the comfort of your living room.
Trying a new feature in your EFB can sometimes be a bit of a daunting task, especially in high-workload environments. At the time of writing, ForeFlight has a new feature in Labs called Taxi Routes, which allows you to tap prompts to create a taxi route in real-time on the diagram. It’s an awesome feature that’s expanding to more and more airports. I fly at an untowered field in central Ontario, Canada, so using this feature on the fly while talking to ATC isn’t appealing in the learning stages. Thanks to my ForeFlight connection with Infinite Flight, and with a little help from LiveATC.net, I can practice using this great feature from the safety of my office.
Infinite Flight iOS app screenshot of a Cessna 172 taxiing at White Plains, NY sending data to ForeFlight
ForeFlight iOS app screenshot showing taxi routes and receiving GPS and attitude information from Infinite Flight
The price is right
Unlike many things in aviation, Infinite Flight won’t break the bank. It’s a free download in the App Store and Google Play and comes with a selection of aircraft and regions in which to practice. When you’re hooked, a USD$9.99/month subscription to Infinite Flight Pro will unlock all aircraft and global flight. If you want to take advantage of Infinite Flight’s multiplayer and ATC options, this same subscription provides unlimited access to those as well.
To try Infinite Flight, head to the App Store or Google Play on your mobile device and download the app for free. A comprehensive user guide and YouTube training videos are available, as well as an active community forum to engage with other users. To learn more about Infinite Flight, visit us at infiniteflight.com. We hope to see you in the Infinite Flight skies soon! ✈
About the author
Jason Rosewell is a private pilot and owns a PA-28. Jason works in Digital Marketing for Infinite Flight and is based just north of Toronto, Canada.
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