So I am flying on the sim for about 7 years now, which 3 years on the (PMDG) 777 and 737NG. Flying on the sims is almost like the real world right now, you can download multiple addons (PMDG, Aerosoft for planes ORBX for scenery, REX and ACSC for weather, etc, etc), download checklists, join online networks (IVAO, VATSIM) and so on. But can step into a 737NG right now and fly it with my sim experience?

What are the real differences between the sim and real world if it's about flying. And if I would step into a 737 now, what challenges can I expect during flight, which I probably didn't encounter during my flights in the simulator.

Consider this:

  • I fly 7 years on the sim
  • 3 years on the PMDG 737 and PMDG 777
  • Flown with multiple failures (Engine Fire, ADIRU failing, etc, etc)

Thanks in advance!

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Related: Can Microsoft Flight Simulator help me learn to fly (or make me a better pilot)? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I know, but isn't answering my question $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 13:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you are just flying a standard desktop rig, you probably will have a hard time locating and actually finding the actual buttons and switches on the real thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @HugoWoesthuis I know, that's why I said it was related, not a duplicate :) $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SMSvonderTann You should check out the PDMG 777. With the exception of "minor" systems like the ACARS, everything is modelled very accurately. I know where every control is. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 17:57

4 Answers 4


GdD brings up some good points but that really depends on what you mean by "home simulator" and it depends on the airplane. There are some people that have taken it to the extreme and built simulators that are fairly close to real and provide a solid learning platform not only for the flying but the actual physical operation of the controls. You can fairly easily build a home sim for a small plane that has all the controls and instruments you would see in a real plane and even in emergency situations you will see real warning lights in your sim and be able to mitigate it as you would in a real plane (nothing is stopping you from wiring in a smoke machine either).

As for the flight dynamics they get more real as time goes on and computers get better and better. I use X-Plane and simulate the Piper Archer I fly in real life which I find to be pretty close to the real thing from a flight dynamics/response stand point. My simulator did a great deal for my cross wind proficiency when I was training. I cant say I learned to fly in the sim but I did a great deal of honing of my skills in my home sim.

The sim is a tool not a replacement

If you understand this you will better be able to realize that the sim can provide you a great deal of proficiency and can suffice for training in some (not all) cases. Even the big guys use simulation to train for the real thing (this article provides some nice pros and cons). The FAA even considers approved simulator time to count towards certain things.

Unless you have a full motion sim at home, the sim wont provide you with the feeling of flying which is very hard to replicate. It wont disorient you in IMC by having G-Forces cause your vestibular sense to distrust the instruments. It wont physically throw you around on a bad cross wind landing with wind sheer causing your knee to bump the yoke. It wont shake you to the point you drop your iPad while briefing an approach plate. It wont spin you until your lunch decides it wants to be elsewhere. These are the kinds of experiences you may only find in a real plane...

One last thing to consider as well is some what of the reverse case. Aircraft cockpits are actually getting closer to computer based units as time moves on. Its common to see keyboards in airbus cockpits and many of the former steam gauges have been all but replaced with screens. As we move into a more automated era some switches have even been lost to digital control units. Even the flight controls them selves have moved into the modern age with fly-by-wire systems removing physical linkage from the side stick to the control surfaces.


A home-based simulator is not enough to safely fly a plane in the real world. You can learn a lot from a desktop simulator, however it doesn't give you enough of the right kind of experience. A computer joystick won't feel like the real thing, the inputs you put in won't be the same and these things are important. When you take off the first time you need to know how far back the stick needs to go. Only the real thing or an approved simulator gives that kind of experience.

In an emergency you need to know by instinct where every switch and knob is, you can't afford to be hunting around for the APU controls!

Most importantly you won't learn anything about Cockpit Resource Management (CRM, also known as Crew Resource Management), that is how to be a part of a functional and safe crew. Commercial airplanes are almost all multi-crew, and all pilots are taught how to operate in a standard way. A desktop simulator is not going to give you any of that experience.


Depends. Could you actually fly a 737 to save your skin? Maybe. Are you ready to enter the airlines as a 737NG FO or captain on a revenue carrying flight? No.

As they say, there is nothing new under the sun and successful flights and landings of aircraft by neophytes without formal training have happened in the past. When I was in high school, I landed an F-4G at KBOI at night in an Air National Guard simulator out at Gowen Field. There is also the story of an USAF mechanic named George Johnson, who soloed in an F-86 at night after only two hours of dual instruction in a Piper Cub. Then, there was this Belgain TV host who landed a real 737 with only a month worth of flight training.

However bear in mind that all these exampled given above are flukes and were also done, either planned or unplanned, under the direct supervision of instructor pilots and other staff to guide them in.

Now I will comment that there are a number of payware houses who manufacture with a reputation for super realistic flight models e.g. PDMG, VRS, RealAir quickly come to mind on that. And modern simulators like FSX, P3D and X-Plane are pretty realistic with good flight dynamics, accurate weather effects, relatively realistic airspace use and ATC, etc.

But it is still inadequate to qualify you as a captain or FO on a B737 for a variety of reasons.

  • Kinesthetics: It is one thing to 'fly' a realistic game with a joystick, another thing entirely to have your fanny strapped into the real thing and intuitively operate it correctly. For the first few flights, it's going to feel totally different from your simming experience. You are not yet proficient at 'brain stem flying' in the real thing from your experience in the sim. Everything you think you know about flying has just gone out the window and you only have about 10% of it at your disposal. You are acutely aware of turbulence, bumps, acceleration and deceleration from throttle inputs, maneuvering, etc. And things happen very fast in a terminal environment when moving at 200 KIAS while having to deal with airmanship, navigation, communication, frequencies, several hundred aircraft system, weather, flying instrument approaches, etc. It is most likely to seriously overload a newcomer who is expected to do it in a professional manner.

  • Flight dynamics: As mentioned above, these sims and payware a/c are pretty accurate but do have their limitations. FSX, for instance does not model jet engine or turborop engine performance/response and edge of the envelope flight accurately (the core of the game originally designed for single engine pistons, I believe), so there are going to be differences in handling and feel between the game and the real thing.

  • Avionics: These are replicated in sim games ranging from pretty darn good (e.g. Reality XP's GNS430/530) to horrible (default FSX). I don't know how PMDG does as far as it's ability to replicate a 737's avionics suite, but there are going to be differences between the sim and the real thing ranging from the very benign differences in a non critical submode somewhere to major functional differences e.g. the AFCS, AT, approach modes, etc. which can have disastrous consequences in a real airplane if they are operated incorrectly. Also avionics configurations are going to vary from airline to airline, airplane to airplane, adding additional complications. You would have to consult with the approved airplane flight manuals in each a/c for specifics here.

  • Real world flying abilities - If all your flying experience is on a sim game, chances are you're doing something wrong. Sims can teach you a lot but they are simply not a substitute for FAA approved flight instruction.

  • Weather - Weather in sims flat out sucks. Sure it can simulate clouds, fog, rain, etc. but it does not simulate a lot of the dangerous stuff well. You can take off directly into a severe thunderstorm or microburst in FSX without the slightest bump. Do that in real life and you're likely to star in your own NTSB report. Sims also don't simulate a lot of the unpredictability associated with weather where one minute you're flying in benign clouds and the next you're inadvertently in moderate or severe icing conditions, severe updrafts/downdrafts when operating at an airport surrounded by mountains, etc. There are a lot of dangerous weather phenomena specific to certain regions of the globe which are not modeled well in these sims and would be well known to local flyers.

  • Flight operations and ATC - dealing with sim ATC is kind of like having a conversation with a talking Barbie doll; sure, it says all the right things in the right order but it's never the same as a dynamic conversation with a real human. In the real world, controllers may be a lot more dynamic and may deviate considerably from ideal protocol in a textbook. They can have additional instructions for taxiing, traffic separation, sequencing for approached, preferred traffic maneuvering to relieve congestion and expedite operations. For instance in a sim you can contact Los Angeles approach and request the ILS RWY 24R into LAX; In real life, LA approach is going to laugh at you and then give you the option of flying either the ILS for RWY 24L or RWY 25R, as 24R is being used for departures and would interfere with their schedule.

  • Unpredictability of real life - It's said that Murphy's Law puts in lots of overtime and this can be especially true of flying. The environment constantly changes and you have to be ready to adapt to it. For example, watch this radar track of airliners approaching and landing at KATL as a series of severe thunderstorms develop over Atlanta area one afternoon.

    Unpredictability can vary greatly from traffic congestion, to having to hold on the ground to wait for a gate due to local airport computer problems all the way up to serious emergencies like structural failures, decompression, diverts because a passenger had a heart attack and needs medical attention, etc. This just can't be replicated in a computer game.

  • Graver consequences of emergencies - You're flying at FL370 when an explosive decompression occurs. You have 5 seconds to react properly to this or you and everyone on board will lose consciousness and die. No computer game can prepare you for that kind of an experience. It's a looonnnggg way down to terra firma and you're going to have to get a crippled airplane back down there safely all while dealing with the emergency and fighting that visceral reaction in the pit of your stomach that this is no joke and your life is really in danger here. In the sim? OK, so the aircraft broke up from being overstressed. Push reset and try again.

To develop the kind of professionalism needed to do this, you're going to need time and experience flying the real thing. It's the reason the FAA requires you have logged at least 1500 flight hours in the category and class of aircraft to be used to become an ATP captain and sets at least 250 flight hours as a minimum requirement for other kinds of commercial flight operations. You will need this experience - this seasoning - if you will to become proficient in these kinds of conditions and situations and complete the flight successfully.


This is an anecdotal answer, so I'm sorry if it doesn't really fit the site but in my opinion, there's one thing that no simulator, no matter how good, can prepare you for: The emotions you'll feel.

No matter how realistic the graphics are, no matter whether it's got full motion capability and no matter how good the flight model is - until you've taken on that responsibility you just won't know how well you're going to commit.

Like many people here, I spent a lot of my time in flight simulators - afterall, they're a lot cheaper than the real thing. But, never once, have I broken into a cold sweat. Never once have I had one of those moments where I just wanted to be on the ground, having completely utterly forgotten everything I've ever learned.

People focus on a lot of the technicalities, but the truth is I've always felt pretty at home in a cockpit. Moving away from big planes, your average GA plane is not hard to get off the ground- checklists are easily memorized and for the most part you can fly just fine without touching too much. And, I suspect if you've got enough sim experience you could conceivably pull off a circuit - the real, question though, is when you're sat there all by yourself at 1000', sweating, are you going to have the confidence in yourself to fly that plane back down to the ground knowing full well if you screw it up you may not be going home. And what about a stall - when you're sat there, and it's all on you are you going to have that confidence to point the nose down when all you want to do is go up! And, back to the big toys, maybe you're about to kill several hundred people.

  • $\begingroup$ As far as anecdotes go, actually, on my own first real-world stall exercise I ended up pushing the nose too far down! Good thing we were at somehing like 2000-2500 feet AGL. The second attempt was much smoother. So you can do it wrong both ways. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I suppose I was thinking more about stretching the glide at low level - I think we all have that desire to pull back once the ground starts getting closer a little sooner than we'd like! But yes, absolutely - either way there's little substitute for being sat in the seat! $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ "I think we all have that desire to pull back once the ground starts getting closer a little sooner than we'd like!" Indeed! I don't know how many times I've either been at the brink of making that mistake, or actually made it... thankfully without needing to star in my own accident investigation report so far! I think that's what instructors are for. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 12:48

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