Simulation.

As I mentioned in my previous post, starting one’s flight training in the middle of winter in Central New York is probably not the best time to learn to fly.  During the month of December, five of my lessons were canceled due to poor weather conditions. Luckily, because I was just starting out with my training, we weren’t slated to do anything outside of the four fundamentals, so we could go when it was relatively cold (we didn’t want to ‘shock’ the engine on the PA-28 in colder weather with practice stalls, pattern work and the like). In January things were a little bit better, though I still had a couple of canceled lessons and the trend continued through February. I’m currently up to 8.3 hours in my log book.

Sometimes you have to get what you can get and last week I finally bowed to Mother Nature and gave the simulator at the flight school a try. I had watched others fly the simulator and I have to admit that I have no qualms of having my instructor with me (obviously) or having a fellow student in the backseat when I’m in the left seat of the Cherokee, but I felt a little nervous about handling the simulator back at the school where there was a chance that others could watch me.

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Everyone I have spoken to says that flying the simulator can actually be more difficult than flying the actual airplane and I tend to agree with that. At our safety briefing gatherings on Saturdays, there are quite a few pilots who won’t fly the simulator because “it’s just not the same.”  I get that. When I got behind the controls of the simulator I found myself having difficulty getting beyond the fact that it was a computer and not a Piper. I kept seeing a monitor and a really good approximation of what I should have been seeing from the cockpit and it was just that, an approximation. Plus, I found myself REALLY missing the feel of the airplane. I didn’t realize that I was relying on my senses that much already; thinking outside of the cockpit is really working well for me, apparently. My instructor offered to shake the chair a little bit for me.  The one thing that ended up not bothering me was having others watch my maiden flight on the simulator. There were five in the room and they were all very supportive.

My instructor mentioned that if someone is having trouble with something in the airplane, they will often have the same trouble with the simulator and I believe this to be true. My tendency to be a little timid with throttle changes translated to the simulator as well and flying on the computer helped me with this for my next lesson in the Cherokee.

While it’s certainly not a replacement for flying in an airplane, I think a simulator can be a valuable tool for augmenting the skills learned in the air when you’re stuck on the ground. Looking back at it, my hesitation to try it was unwarranted and I’m looking forward to using it again. It’s not the same as flying, but it’s a good approximation, and sometimes you have to get what you can get.

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