I wonder, how were the pilots selected and trained before simulators were introduced.

The simulators allowed to test the coordination and reaction time of candidates. And they allowed the students to learn to manipulate the planes before they actually flew. And to train the pilots to work in different situations.

So how was it before the simulators?

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    $\begingroup$ I've never personally been in a simulator for training purposes, and I'm a pilot... $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Ron Beyer: Me too. The reason airline pilots train in a simulator is simply cost: it costs a lot to fly a commercial aircraft, and it likely gets real expensive if you write one off practicing emergency maneuvers :-) Still, I would bet that most, if not all, airline pilots learned basic flying in a single-engine prop plane. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ "The simulators allowed to test the coordination and reaction time of candidates." Does that actually happen? I'm a pilot and I've never even heard of that, let alone done it. And my flight training was within the last few years. Perhaps the military does that for fighter pilots or some such thing, but most pilots don't have their skills measured by anything other than their flight instructor and designated pilot examiner watching how they fly a real airplane. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ I have been in simulators, Level D, full motion. The only physiological testing (if you call it that) is to be spun in an altitude chamber, at 4.5 to 7G and then have the chamber explosively decompressed, to see what I could tolerate (ie how many Gs at 25000 ft pressure altitude. For the Level D simulators, the emphasis is on procedures, aeronautical decision making and judgement, rather than reaction times. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ The RAF have reaction time tests, but they have to filter a lot of applicants for the tiny number of fast jet pilot jobs. $\endgroup$
    – pjc50
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 9:11

2 Answers 2


Almost every pilot learns to fly in an actual aircraft, this is one of the reasons all trainers have dual controls.

enter image description here

My first day out, ever, was in an actual plane, behind real controls, in the sky. No sim-time prior to that. The instructor talked me though takeoff and maneuvers (keeping an eye on everything and operating the rudder). All he did was radio coms, navigation and the approach/landing.

As for whats common:

The vast majority of American WWII pilots are said to have learned to fly in the piper J-3 Cub enter image description here The Boeing PT-17 Steraman and AT-11 Kansan were also popular.

In GA where everyone else gets their start the Piper Cherokee and Cessna 150 or 172 rule supreme.

Of course these planes are slow, benign and fairly safe by aviation standards. But what if you have some super fast, one of a kind, high flying, awesome supersonic jet gadget. You surely cant afford to ruin such a plane but still need to train pilots. Well in that case you just build yourself a dual cockpit custom trainer....

enter image description here

Even the space shuttle had a real flying trainer designed to mimic its approach characteristics.

All that being said simulators can be a big help if used properly.

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    $\begingroup$ Question: Who sits in the instructor seat the very first time? :) $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ When the wrights invented powered flight there were no instructors and they subsequently became the first issuers of licenses as well as early defacto instructors. Since then various organizations form the civil aviation authority which eventually became the FAA and similar military outfits have overseen pilot training and education. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Re trainers having dual controls, the only planes I've seen that didn't have dual controls were single-seaters. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @pipe: That's what test pilots are for. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf many of the early Beach Bonanza's had a "toss over" yoke as did planes like the Spartan Executive both which were dual seat single control. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 19:35

Simulators have been in use since the late-20's.

Link's first military sales came as a result of the Air Mail scandal, when the Army Air Corps took over carriage of U.S. Air Mail. Twelve pilots were killed in a 78-day period due to their unfamiliarity with Instrument Flying Conditions.

They have been invaluable in teaching instrument flying and emergency procedures ever since.

If you are hinting at pilots training on airliners, then the norm back then was for an airline to dedicate an airliner primarily for training. Flying good ol'circuits, touch and goes, and what not. Deals were made with airports with low traffic to accommodate those flights.

That was the case even for the Concorde, once the sim training was over, the pilots trained on the real thing. Nowadays pilots that have flown only small piston planes (for example), jump from Level D sims straight to revenue flights on jetliners.

enter image description here
(Source) The 'Blue Box' trainer from the early 1930s.

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    $\begingroup$ That is, without a doubt, one of the funniest looking things I've seen. Even though it's a legitimate thing that just make it even more ridiculous. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ I remember playing as a child in the late 1940s in a Link that was collecting dust in an abandoned WWII hangar. The control surfaces really did move. Rotation speed as a little high, though. After that, the next time I was in a sim was the late 1980s. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:46

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