The thief of the Bombardier Q400 at SEATAC stated that he had a lot of simulator flying (I'm guessing like Flight Simulator for the PC?) Some "experts" stated that he must have had more than that to get the Bombardier off of the ground and flying 'stunts' like loops and rolls. Can a zero hour pilot pull off what apparently did happen or did the thief have to have had much more knowledge? I assume that just starting up the plane to taxi would be a complex procedure, is this easily learned in a PC Game?
You don't even need your own simulator. Here is a good video of how to start a Q400 (taken from a sim game) and here is one from a tech going through an actual cockpit. There is even a chance there were checklists in the aircraft when he arrived.
To get off the ground he really just needed to know how to gun the throttles and roughly when to pull back on the yoke to get airborne. These numbers can be found pretty readily around the web. Considering his fuel and cargo load and depending on the trim of the aircraft it may have even started flying with almost no control inputs.
Whats important to understand about some of the maneuvers he did was the fact that the aircraft was empty and flying on a partial fuel load which will make it easier to do some of those things. I will refrain from diving deep here until the NTSB report is out but at full throttle planes are capable of quite a bit. Rolling an airliner is not out of the question in the right scenario.
It is possible to learn and study everything in a (home) simulator except for hand-flying.
Operating an aircraft is (simplified) only about pressing the right switches at the right time and monitoring the aircraft data.
Richard Russel probably didn't do the latter, because the probability that something does not work is low firstly and secondly it wasn't his goal to take care of the plane.
So, it's indeed easily possible to learn how to make this aircraft ready for takeoff, especially if your goal is just to get the engines running. The hand-flying part is something else. But yeah, nobody says what he did was good flying. It sufficed for what he has done.
Also note: He has just done the very basics to get the plane up and fly it. In his conversation with ATC, he asks about how to pressurize the plane and how to operate the autopilot, so he lacks some "deeper" understanding and knowledge of the aircraft. In the background of his transmissions, there also is the master warning audible sometimes.
To summarize: Yes, a home simulator completely suffices for what Richard Russel wanted to accomplish.
Can a zero hour pilot pull off what apparently did happen ... ?
The hard part about flying isn't the actual mid-flight control, so much as it's getting into the air, getting back on the ground, and dealing with emergencies.
You can learn the first part and the basic flight controls in a simulator. In Russel's case, the latter two parts were greatly simplified: he created an emergency, and he didn't need to get back in one piece.
It's actually possible to learn far more than he did in a sim. The complex part of modern aircraft is the systems, and MSFS X with custom planes is a powerful learning tool. If you haven't "played" it, it's not like a normal game at all. Most of MSFS is looking at the instruments and flipping switches that model the systems as closely as the creators could.
Air maneuvering requires flight time to perform safely, with minimum risk to the aircraft - one has to learn to trust their instruments, deal with their senses, and respect the envelope. Doing it with only sim training is simply dangerous, not impossible.