How much training/refreshing is necessary/desirable for instructing general aviation pilots? All I see is commercial pilots been trained in simulators.

A real general aviation airplane might be not much more expensive than a realistic flight simulator (full-motion simulators with hydraulics), but wouldn't training specific scenarios (like engines-off, bad weather) in a simulator be a significant enhancement in their education?

  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of simulators out there for those uses. My flight school used to have a Redbird simulator that I think cost on the scale of $75,000 and had 2 degrees of freedom. There are more basic ones too that can be used for training, like the Redbird Jay and other cheaper ones that can be certified for some training scenarios. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer May 21 '20 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ Zero simulator time is necessary, pilots have been trained for decades without them and the stats show they are reasonably safe. Whether they can be made even safer via sims is a matter of opinion, and I can think of a few arguments against it. $\endgroup$ – Ben May 22 '20 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Can Microsoft Flight Simulator help me learn to fly (or make me a better pilot)? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife May 22 '20 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife: I meant a real professional flight sim, no improvised solutions. $\endgroup$ – Quora Feans May 22 '20 at 22:29

Under FAA rules, simulator training is not a requirement for any certificate/license. Only a certain amount of simulator training can be substituted for training in an actual aircraft for each certificate. Even then, only simulators certified by the FAA can be counted towards training time. The cost of the hardware and complexity of the software necessary to be good enough to receive FAA certification makes only high level FFS devices financially advantageous for airlines. These devices compared to the average home simulators is like the difference between 1970s TV night to holographic day.

Then, the question is if the allowed simulator time makes sense for the General Aviation pilot. Part 61.109 allows 2.5 hours of sim time to be substituted for actual flight time towards a private pilot certificate. That number doubles if the training is done in a Part 142 training center. By the time you get to the 1500 hours required for an ATP, ...

Not more than 100 hours of the total aeronautical experience requirements of paragraph (a) of this section or §61.160 may be obtained in a full flight simulator or flight training device provided the device represents an airplane and the aeronautical experience was accomplished as part of an approved training course in parts 121, 135, 141, or 142 of this chapter.

If the time requirements for aeronautical experience were arbitrary to the need for training, a flight simulator can be a viable option. A realistic AATD (Advanced Aviation Training Device) would be affordable for a General Aviation flight school. Compared to the millions of dollars of a full-motion FFS (Full Flight Simulator), an AATD would be less than $100,000. Most flight schools in my area would charge a student roughly half the hourly rate for an AATD that they would for the typical 4-seat, 6-pack, single-engine, fixed-winged trainer aircraft.

Unfortunately, the lack of realism in an AATD makes it a valuable tool for procedures training only. An AATD lacks the feel and feedback of real flight. Its value is only as good as the student, instructor, or pilot’s diligence to following the procedures. To gain the most training benefit from an AATD carry out the flight using flight planning, flow checks and checklists to their fullest. Role-playing ATC will further add to this benefit. Treat it like a real flight and not like a game.

Anecdotally, I have trained on sims ranging from full-motion Redbird BATDs with custom G1000 bezels to stationary AATDs with fully functional instruments and controls, home sims on personal computers to multimillion dollar full-motion, gimbaled FFSs at the American Airlines Training Center. Except for the AATC FFS, none of them had the realistic force feedback of a real flight. All but the FFS had software sophisticated enough to mimic landings or wind interaction with enough realism. And, the FFSs are far too expensive for general aviation use. Actual flight time in a GA trainer aircraft would be cheaper.


There is no requirement for flight simulator training in general aviation as far as I'm aware but you can save a ton of money during flight training if you use flight simulators. A basic setup could be cheaper than one flight hour and depending on the aircraft you are training for it could save you thousands of dollars/euros in the long run. Even chair flying (literally sitting on a chair and pretending to fly) can re-enforce patterns and reduce training costs.

Commercial pilots are training in flight simulators for that exact reason: it's much cheaper than practicing with an actual aircraft. Some of the situations they train for are just too risky to perform in real life. And also you can't just wait for the weather to turn bad to do the exercise.

In my opinion a flight simulator on a normal desktop PC with a good set of hardware input devices i.e. a yoke or stick and a pair of rudder pedals as well as a throttle quadrant, already provides 90% of the training that a much more expensive motion simulator can offer. On the other hand you can replace real world flight hours with a fully professional sim which you can't do with a home PC flight sim.

A friend of mine recently started his helicopter flight lessons and practiced for about 20 to 30 hours before his first flight with an instructor. In the first lesson after a few minutes he was already able hover on his own and therefor skipped ahead about three or four flight lessons. That saved him a ton of money and also gave him much more confidence and took away a lot of the stress and he was really enjoying the flight training from that point forward.

If you're looking to start flight training I'd recommend practicing the first steps within the safe environment of a flight simulator with online tutorials or videos or even better with the help of a friend who already flies or a flight instructor. When you reach between 30 to 100 hours of home flight simulator time and manage to not crash all the time and make the first good landings then you should seek the expertise of an actual flight instructor before you enforce bad habits. Once you have started flight training you can repeat the flight lessons at home to try and perfect your skills. I'm sure your flight instructor will be blown away how well you perform the tasks learned in previous lessons.

Personally I'm a big flight sim enthusiast and my ratio of flight sim hours to real world flight hours is somewhere in the ballpark of 500 to 1. But even 1:1 will already have a huge effect because you essentially double the time.

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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, as a private pilot I couldn't disagree more with this. I think sim flying (especially home sim) is next to useless for the stick and rudder skills of private piloting. They can be very good for procedures, especially IFR and can be useful for practicing nav but I think chair flying is the best method of learning through your PPL. Additionally, there's a high risk of picking up bad habits while learning to fly without your instructor shouting at you $\endgroup$ – Dan May 22 '20 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Dan - Unfortunately, it is an apples and oranges comparison. A person can learn from a flight sim. If they take it seriously. The ratio of benefit from learning from home sims vs real flying is not 1:1. A ratio of 10:1 or even 20:1 would be generous. The biggest benefit is access & convenience. Having done FFS training at the AA training center, I can tell you it is darn near the real thing. FFS training is near 2:1. But, it costs more than time in a GA training aircraft. As you said, home sims can be good procedural trainers. But, there is no substitute for real flight hours. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. May 23 '20 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan - I agree with Dan. Flight simming is a very useful tool in training. It has its limitations of usefulness. As you have pointed out, you can develop and reinforce habits and routines. As Dan has pointed out, some of the habits you develop are not good ones. So, practicing something the wrong way first makes it harder to learn the right way. Learn it the right way the first time as well as the reasons behind it and why it’s important for you before you practice it. To do this, learn with an instructor first. Then practice it once the instructor is comfortable with your understanding of it $\endgroup$ – Dean F. May 23 '20 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yes a home flight sim cannot replace real world flights and actual flight lessons. It's just a tool that helps you practicing but you have to be careful not to enforce bad habits. That's why I suggested to get in contact with a flight instructor. I wouldn't say that it necessarily becomes harder to learn the right way but you certainly need the right mind set and have to know that what ever you have been doing in the flight sim may not be representative of the real world. With several different flight sims installed you're not as much at risk of learning the "wrong way to fly" though. $\endgroup$ – Jan May 23 '20 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ It may be comparable to riding a bicycle through town and then jumping straight into a car. Yes there are similarities and yes you may profit from having seen the street sings and what not but there are many aspects that a flight sim cannot capture. But still you will be able to learn faster than if you had no experience at all. Or at least this is what I have experienced with each person who used flight sims first and then transitioned to the real aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Jan May 23 '20 at 10:38

How much simulator training does an aspiring general-aviation pilot need?

None. I've never had any simulator training, and I've made it through the ranks of "aspiring" GA pilot to reach the exalted status of "actual" GA pilot, and I've never crashed yet. At least not significantly.0


0 = Not Significantly


Simulator training takes a lot of forms; from actual simulators that replicate the cockpit and characteristics and systems of an actual airplane, to simple devices that represent the general concept of an aircraft. They're used for instrument procedures trainers, as well as a much less expensive version of large, sophisticated aircraft. It's a lot less expensive to train for two months in a simulator, than the actual airplane.

That said, there are a number of general aviation simulators, from light singles and twins to corporate jets. Even the Air Tractor 802 has a simulator.

Competent simulator-based training can be very effective, and is sometimes mandated by insurance providers.

There's a reason that the general aviation mishap rate is considerably higher than professional commercial aviation, and it's not a matter of flight hours of experience. A lot of it comes down to standardization and training.


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