Trial lesson -- comparing sim with reality (long story)
I've long played flight simulators (including a 747 one on the old BBC Micro). In recent years Flight Unlimited II on a low power Win 98 box and X-Plane V8 on OS X.
I have a confession: I'm scared of heights. I'm OK in heavy metal planes but light aircraft I'm not sure about.
I booked a trial lesson for today. As the weather isn't perfect at this time of year I was asked to phone before travelling. They tuned into ATIS and decided that it was 50/50 and up to me if I went there. I decided to go.
When I got there it was raining. The instructor said that he was willing to wait and see if the weather would improve so I went next door for a bite to eat.
When I next saw the instructor he was just about to check the weather reports -- news came back bad at moment but clearing from the north so we were on.
My first surprise was the amount of room in the cockpit (or should I say the lack of it). I also found out why people complain about access to Pipers.
We went through the checklist and the instructor advised me to use the windscreen rather than instruments. He let me taxi and I found myself rather underconfident there and stood on the brakes a lot.
As I was confident of taking off, I'd told him I'd simmed a lot, he let me do that. As I rotated I got a shock -- the ground fell away! Yes, I know I was in a plane (and a voice in my head made much the same comment) but that's one thing you don't get in sims -- you only see sky (unless you use the hat switch to look to the sides). I panicked for a second and let the instructor take over. The instructor turned us north to Morpeth.
I took control of my fear and followed the directions I was given. He showed me how to set the elevator trim and got me to use it. At one point it did seem that the bank was a little steep but the instructor was perfectly relaxed. The instructor talked me through a balanced turn demonstated a non-balanced turn.
I was getting the hang of things and starting to feel confident. Yes, the fear was there but kept in check by a calm satisfaction. During the pre-flight brief the instructor had told me how speed, and the prop slipstream, affected the way the controls felt. He got me to reduce the speed and feel how the controls responded. He then got me to bring the engine to idle to feel how the rudder and elevators responded. I followed his instructions but having the engine at idle did scare me.
We entered the pattern at right base and by the turn to final he had fully taken over (but asked me to follow his movements).
How did it compare to the sim? You can make out ground details a lot easier in reality. You can't feel G-forces in sims. You can't pause if you feel unsure of something. The real plane felt easier to fly -- my sim seems to be unsure what position is zero on the joystick and the workload, in reality, is spread between your feet and your hands rather than trying to do everying with virtually one hand.
Another thing I noticed was the speed at which the pressure changed on journey. I only went for a half-hour flight but ATIS reported QNH of 1012, by the time we took off it was 1007, at right base it was 1002 and, finally, it was given as 1001 when we landed. Oh well, snow's predicted for tonight.
Now for some hard thinking about whether I want to go ahead and learn to fly properly.
 I was in a Piper Warrior.
 Using sims you tend to like them as they are usually faster than the other planes so you can get from A to B quicker.
 Unless you know your way round an airport you are not advised to taxi in X-Plane -- there are no maps and that part of ATC is not well handled (even the company admits that).
Last edited by HiFranc; 27th Feb 2006 at 21:17.
Reason: Adding notification
I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had better control over my fear. I would need to make a few more flights to decide whether it was worth it or not.
I've only ever been in a light aircraft once before, as a passenger on a scenic mountain flight. Because of the mountains there was light turbulance and I was sure I was going to die. Without a doubt my favourite part of that flight was landing!
After this flight I was half relieved it was over but half of me wishing I was still up there. Maybe with a few more flights and more confidence in the machine I would enjoy it a lot more (I'd say it was 60% in favour/40% fear for the flight I had)? At the cost of flying lessons, it's a tricky decision to make (especially as I won't be able to afford to keep flying unless I a) got a job in the aviation industry or b) getting a higher paid job).
i felt exactly the way you do when i was deciding wether to fly or not. and i still get very nervous before every lesson. but once im up there, it is totaly worth it to me.
im hoping that the fear thing will pass as i gain experience, but if it doesnt, what the hell. i will only be a better more aware pilot for it right.
fears not always a bad thing. you should also remember that if the aircraft is well maintained, and the school is professional chances of error are extremely low. also should an engine fail if the 1 in a million does happen. you will not fall out the sky like a brick. single engine aircraft make excellent gliders!
I've been messing with flight sims all my life, trying to achieve the ultimate realism with complex add-ons, X-Plane 8 and the like. Taking my first lessons in real life shocked me, simply because the simulators (short of a Frasca/Level D sim) are so limited - they give no sense of the control forces involved, the art of trimming etc.
The VSI is completely useless in level flight (actually the only useful instruments at this stage of my training are the ASI, TC & altimeter, oh and everything needed for a FREDA check).
Landing was a lot easier then I expected, even in an xwind, just because perspective makes everything so much easier - with a sim I'd compare my vertical speed with the ASI and limited perspective - in real life you pick a spot and aim the plane's flightpath at it, even when the runway is looming up in your side window
Navigating, or the limited amount of it I've done so far, is easy enough, going from map to ground (or ground to map, I'm still not sure which). We were flying along a coastline though, making things that much easier - plenty of landmarks around.
My instructor threw in an unusual (for me) attitude - nose down, steep (ish) turn, airspeed increasing - I forgot to close the throttle until prompted, although the pull and roll (gently!) to the horizon was simple enough.
Another interesting thing I noticed - after my instructor demonstrated adverse yaw, I happened to look out along the length of the wing - and was instantly shocked - even a twitch of aileron produced adverse yaw! This is on a Warrior, so I rolled a bit more, intriuged at the way the wingtip wandered drunkenly across the horizon. Learned a lesson from that - adverse yaw is ALWAYS around.
Jeez the more I type the more I remember Mistrimming the plane requires a lot of force to hold the attitude - easily enough to be noticable. Trimming was an epiphany - the plane will always hunt for the 'speed' (trim) you set, unlike in some sims, which do a fair few sine waves before settling down. Holding altitude was a bit more of a problem, mainly because it's associated with horizon position, which I haven't had the chance to finetune yet.
Roll control is interesting - quick movements do very little, but firm pressures do much more, and a bootful of rudder makes things much easier. In the climb, rudder is always nessecary and a moment's inattention will kick the ball out of centre
At the end of the day though, I was very overloaded on my first lesson and still overloaded the next day on the next lesson, but not as badly - I could actually enjoy the flight. We did a few interesting things - flying through a small cloud (put me off flying into cloud without an IR - I suddenly lost all my references and froze - I knew enough not to move the controls). I was nervous, but far too busy to be afraid! I went backseat with another student & instructor - very educational and slightly more worrying - landing path was very steep!
Edit: One more thing - a light touch on the controls is very important - tensing up means you lose the feedback the plane is trying to give you!
Last edited by Confabulous; 28th Feb 2006 at 11:43.
This confirms that computer software from Microsoft, or whoever, are not SIMULATORS - they are toys (which I play with, too, so don't scream at me too loud).
One bit that really struck me from reading message one was why scared of having the throttle at idle"? You've done it many times in the "sim", I'm sure - and if you put as much faith in the reality of the software as you appear to do then why any concern what-so-ever about having the throttle at idle in the aircraft? The "sim" didn't plunge to the ground, did it? Does your 'sim' have a glider profile? Try closing the throttle on that. (Difficult - but it still flies).
Hope you go on to having great fun learning to fly the Warrior.
Pro pilots use flight sims all the time for tests,learning new methods etc etc,and say they are incredibly realistic,but I think these sims cost £ millions to buy and set up. Are there any for PPL type stuff that are worthwhile, and costing less than the real thing ? And give you as much pleasure??????? Lister
Lister, X-Plane is reasonable provided you remember it's only a sim. The maker's boast they have FAA approval for real pilots to clock up hours on it but it's not a patch on the real thing. It might be better if you had a proper flight yoke and pedals (approx £250 from most outlets in Britain)?
Keygrip, I've never tried it. The only times I've ended up at idle (or close to it) on a simulator flight is when I've been caught out by ice and my ASI is giving me a falsely high reading.
Thank you, EKGBFLYER. I'll remember that.
cessnasey, thank you for your support.
Confabulous, sims give you some general pointers but you're right about flying in general and trimming.
I used to play on sims all the time, as a kid who liked the idea of flying. As I grew up I took it more seriously, but then I actually started flying last year (at 17) and I really do not like playing on the sims for more than 1/2 hour or so now. Find it too boring - I find myself taking the 737 to 250 feet due to boredom!
Nothing compared to the real thing...
I guess the CAA rated ones for instrument flying may be a little more fun though.
I purchased a copy of MS flightsim 2004 as well as CH products pedals and yoke after I started learning to fly hoping that it would give me some extra practice. To be honest I have found it of limited use – you definitely do not get the feeling of realism you do in a real plane. Practicing a stall for example in the sim – you do not get any of the cues you do in the real world. But having said that I have found it helpful to practice the different steps for doing some of the maneuvers.
Also these simulators could be of more use to those training for an instrument rating – you can practice your instruments scan, recover from unusual attitudes and practice landings with ILS. There is another product called Elite – they sell software and also sim hardware and the hardware is actually an FAA approved sim (although I believe for instrument only). They have one at our club and although I’ve never used it I have tried the hardware and it does feel realistic. Apparently for the FAA private rating you can take the required instrument time on this sim although so far I’ve done it on the plane under the hood.
I downloaded the Elite software and to be honest it looks and feels worse than the MS sim IMHO.
Like Cessnasey, I too have just started out. I seem to recall from one of his/her posts that he/she had just done their 4th lesson. Well, mine's coming up, and my feelings about flying mirror exactly what Cessnasey has described here.
Similar to you Franc, my first lesson (EofC) was a mixture of nervousness and euphoria. I'm not scared of heights but was wary of flying an airborne caravan and I landed wondering if I had it in me to keep going. To make matters worse, my 2nd flight was bloody hair-raising. I'd plummed for the dodgy club headset with shoddy mic, (doesn't help the learning process) and the turbulence was so bad (hot day) the FI apologised profusely, saying if he knew how bad it was, he wouldn't have taken me up. But I still went away questioning my nerve.
My advice? Get straight back on that horse!
Despite negative memories of my 2nd flight, #3 was a blast, simply because I made a conscious effort to force myself into being positive. Things came pretty easy (unlike before) and I went away feeling I'd started to learn something. Now I'm itching for #4!
You'll soon get over issues with heights, turbulence and other things (like feeling sick), but one of the most important pieces of advice I've been given is - enjoy it! Don't just have fun, try to go to your next lesson feeling positive and relaxed and it'll all seem to come together much easier.
If it's any help, from what you've described, it appears you did and learned a terrific amount (or maybe I'm just a slow learner?!) in just your first lesson. For that alone you should be proud, and if you're not too nervous to continue, and as long as you enjoy it, keep at it. Compared to me and as a newcomer, you sound like you're onto it mate. Go ahead and book another lesson.
Look at it like this. No-one ever said flying was easy. That's why it's so gratifying when you know you can do it.
PS. You're flying over a beautiful part of the world up there. Cold as buggery but I'll always have warm memories of the place.
I don't think I phrased my question clearly. Are there any professional flight sims based in East Anglia that would allow a PPL to progress with IR etc,at a lower or similar price as using a PA28 etc? It would get round weather probs etc,but probably not as much fun as real thing. Lister
Flightsim 2004 et all are good for learning procedures but not much use for teaching you how to actually fly.. I remember during my PPL training (FS95 days!) I would practice over and over the sequence of events during circuits....500' left turn...1000' level off using APT..turn downwind....downwind checks etc etc....did this over and over so that for the next lesson I had the sequence drummed into my head and could concentrate more on the actual flying.
Also used this again for brushing up prior to my CPL course a couple of years ago. Used a VFR scenery addon and flew around doing practice position fixes using VOR/VOR crosscut, VOR/DME etc and again for other procedural stuff. Again was good to blow the cobwebs off and refresh the technique but nothing like having to actually do it whilst flying around under the hood and being bounced about in the Florida turbulence. Fortunately I had a very understanding examiner for the test.....hello there Keygrip!
Basically if used correctly home sims can help to drum in some of the procedural stuff while your on the ground allowing you to make better use of your time in the air. Certainly never going to be even close to the real thing though! Best game I've ever played for actual 'handling/feel' however was Flight Unlimited 3....getting rather old now but always felt far more realistic than anything Microsoft have ever produced........
maybe flight sims are not great for getting a real feel for flying, but i have to say, i think they are great for teaching a wanna be pilot the bare basics of flying an aircraft, and for instrument flying and practising checks etc.
for instance, we forget what its like to know nothing about piloting an airplane. when i first took the controls on flight sim, about 5-6 years ago, before any trial lessons or flying other than going on holiday, i had hardly any idea what a rudder or an aileron was. i didnt know i had to pull the stick back to take off, taxying from pedals etc.
my point is flight sims are very beneficial to an absolute beginner. i can honestly say that my trial lesson was allot more fun because of simming. i new what was going on with the aircraft, were the controls and dials were, what they ment and even to pull back at 70 knots on take off (best feeling when you do a take off for 1st time!)
also in the long run you can try things you never will in reality, like looping a 747. now were else you gonna get that experience? might not be real, but its the closest im gonna get! he he