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Using FlightSim for IMC training

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Using FlightSim for IMC training

Old 9th Jan 2013, 18:24
  #1 (permalink)  
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: UK
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Using FlightSim for IMC training

I have Microsoft FlightSim but never really used it seriously. Now I'm doing IMC training and I hear that FlightSim can be good to practice approaches.

So, what I want to know is:

- is it worth getting to know the flight sim purely for such practice?
- if it is, any tips on how best to get started?

I had a quick play and wondered whether I'd just spend ages learning how to fly a computer for no real gain.

A quick look online showed some software that seems specifically designed for instrument training but costs a lot more than FlightSim so maybe that is more suitable.

I don't mind investing time or money if it really does aid learning and saves cost of otherwise flying actual approaches over and over + it's safe to practice without needing someone in the right hand seat. But I don't want to buy into another distraction if that's all it will be.

CharlieDeltaUK is offline  
Old 9th Jan 2013, 18:37
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Join Date: Apr 2002
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Software for IMC practice

Hi CharlieDeltaUK,

I used M/S Flight Sim briefly, but like you felt it was likely to take too much time to master the software before it was going to yield much training value. It was good for practicing basic accurate flying however; (i.e. maintaining altitude, airspeed and heading within limits).

One package you will definitely find useful, if you don't already have it, is Oddsoft's RANT XL. [http://www.oddsoft.co.uk/] I believe the latest release of RANT is still Release 3.

I have heard that XPlane is also useful, but have no experience of it. Perhaps other contributors can comment.


BroomstickPilot is offline  
Old 9th Jan 2013, 19:47
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I used MS FlightSim X when I was doing my IMC and would recommend it. It does not take that long (1/2 an hour?) to become familiar with it if you can already fly a PA28/C172 etc.

Its much easier sorting out VOR/ADF/ILS stuff sat at a computer than when flying. Getting used to how fast/slow the instruments move when you close a VOR track or ILS approach, flying an ADF/NDB hold with a cross wind, flying an ILS approach with a cross wind, flying procedure turns etc were all very useful. Just set the weather options to make it horrible and away you go! I am convinced it saved me quite a bit of money on actual lessons, having flown the exercises first on Flight Sim.
phoneman is offline  
Old 9th Jan 2013, 21:33
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If you already have it installed, I'd certainly recommend it. Apparently PC sims (whether MSFS or X-Plane) are not that helpful for improving instrument scan, but can be a great (and cheap!) tool for training and drilling instrument procedures and flows as well as situational/positional awareness.

I can also recommend the book "Microsoft Flight Simulator X For Pilots: Real World Training" by Jeff van West and Kevin Lane-Cummings if you can get a cheap copy. The VFR and handling parts are rather cute, but IMVHO (no real-world IFR experience) they offer a quite good introduction into the various IFR procedures, going from basic drills to enroute navigation, holdings, and different approaches. You don't even need a joystick to benefit from PC sim training; the authors recommend using the autopilot at least at the beginning, and the emphasis is not on airplane handling anyway (PC sims are not much good for that) but on procedures, "headwork", flows and checklists, learning to be ahead of the airplane and maintaining situational and positional awareness.

RANT seems to be even better, but more expensive. Never tried it or know any IFR pilots who did, so cannot comment on it firsthand.
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Old 9th Jan 2013, 21:43
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Very good idea !

I can't see a down side to using flightsim as long you understand that it has its limitations.

It should be very good for practicing ADF & VOR tracking, holds and procedural approaches.

It won't replace the instruction in the aircraft but will leave the student better equipped to absorbe the airborne training.
A and C is offline  
Old 9th Jan 2013, 21:49
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Join Date: Jun 2001
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Don't have any doubts. MS Flight sim is the cheapest and best IMCsimulator available. It is almost 100% accurate for flying routes and approaches in the uk.

Rant is great for simulating dip but I don't remember that hitting the IMc exam ( it's more of an ir thing)

I use msfs all the time for ir crurency, it's fabulous.
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Old 9th Jan 2013, 23:22
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I think that if you can't do it sitting in front of the PC, then you're gonna struggle at 3,000 in the bumpy air.
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Old 9th Jan 2013, 23:48
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I am using X-plane sometimes and find it useful. One of their versions is used for FAA certification of sims used for training purposes.

Of course the real thing is the best, and so is armchair flying (visualisation) but for instrument scanning and navigation exercises it has it's purposes.
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 00:19
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I'm also considering how best to prepare for the IMC rating, and have considered whether to try instrument flying on FSX before starting lessons.

One of the criticisms of flight sims for VFR flying is that they can get you into bad habits that it's then difficult to break out of. I wondered whether there are any similar concerns regarding FSX for IMC flying.

e.g. would I be better to take a few real-life lessons to develop my instrument scan before trying to work out how to use the nav-aids in flight sim..?
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 00:36
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Flight Sim 2004 is more than enough for practising IMC flying. It's all I used in addition to my IR training, and I'd say it helped. It should be super cheap on Ebay, or download a torrent if you're into that sort of thing.

You will end up learning to fly a computer, which is actually far more difficult than a real aircraft, so I wouldn't recommend it for things like the actual flying of an ILS, the way I used it was simply to engage the autopilot, then use the on screen controls to move the aircraft to get my head around what the instruments were actually telling me, particularly for things like ADF tracking and holds.
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 01:13
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As an instructor I hate the idea of MSFS for VFR training but think it is quite useful for IFR training. The key here is "training" as in instructor directed exercises.

I find the most effective use of MSFS is for students to to practice the exercises they performed on their last lesson. By that I mean they fly the exact same route doing the same exercises as they did in their last sim/airplane lesson. That way you know what is supposed to happen and can perfect skills and knowledge you already have learned. Using MSFS to learn new procedures on your own usually results in negative training. For practicing procedures I recommend using the autopilot on heading and altitude hold mode so you can concentrate on what the needles are doing.

Since the aircraft in MSFS fly like crap you actually need a pretty good scan to fly the aircraft accurately so it is also valuable to do a concentrated 15 minutes of climbs descents and turns on a regular basis. Don't worry about the nav instruments just work on accurate aircraft control.

Last edited by Big Pistons Forever; 10th Jan 2013 at 01:14.
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 06:33
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MSFS, if properly equipped and used within its limitations, can indeed be a tremendous help. I had a forced hiatus from active flying for a few years but was actively using MSFS in a professional capacity all the time through this. Coming back to flying after that was much easier than it would have been without the constant exposure.

Some important things, I think. It is vital to have proper flight controls to use. Secondly, it makes a lot of sense choosing an airplane (possibly an addon) which as closely as possible corresponds to the one used in real life training, so you can actually incorporate the original checklists. For light planes, Carenado makes a few of them to a fairly high degree of accuracy. It's also possible to get a working GNS430/530 system in your sim, there is one available via RealityXP. It uses the original Garmin simulator but allows to use the GNS as a gauge, as opposed to the rather bad representation of the Garmin 500 which comes with FS itself.

For IR training, most of the time the default scenery will work fine. If VFR navigation is part of the curriculum, there is a series of full photographic representation of the whole UK, Germany and Switzerland. For the UK, this certainly helps. Also there are lots of UK airfields available both commercially and freeware, Alf Denham's stuff is available on Avsim.com. I personally found it quite interesting to "fly" VFR cross countries in the Sim with a high fidelity scenery before setting out on the real trip, simply because it will buy you capacity. The photosceneries are pretty good. Likewise, you can have a look at unfamiliar airports and it's surroundings if the scenery is good enough.
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 08:58
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As an instructor I hate the idea of MSFS for VFR training but think it is quite useful for IFR training.
Agree. One of the biggest drawbacks for VFR flying in MSFS is that you cannot "look out the window", so you start to rely on instruments way too early in your flying career.

But relying on instruments is what IR/IMC flying is about. Use the IFR mode in MSFS which makes the instrument panel as big as your screen allows. Fly the procedures first in nil wind, then in a howling crosswind, and use the track analysis (whatever it's called) to see how accurate you were.

Also, if you want to train a specific procedure (an ILS, say), you can use the "slew" mode to quickly position the aircraft at the start of the procedure, instead of having to spend minutes to actually fly there.

I also like the idea of using the autopilot as much as possible. I have the MS force feedback joystick and I find that there's a "dead zone" near the neutral point that makes it very hard to accurately control the aircraft. Even if trimmed properly the aircraft will not hold pitch or roll. It takes a fair amount of mental capacity to fly the aircraft accurately - something that happens unconsciously in real life. By using the autopilot you can think about where you want the aircraft to go, instead of what control inputs will be necessary to get it there.

And if you get horribly confused, you can always hit the Pause (P) button so that you can sort yourself out before continuing.
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Old 10th Jan 2013, 11:53
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The only down side is the cost of getting a suitable platform to run it on and the hardware to make the whole experience realistic.
I have not used it for a few years so am not aware of any advancements with dealing with the Graphics intensive program.
You need a fast computer and a good set of pedals and yoke.
There are numerous third party addons you can add from scenery, aircraft and weather and sometimes you have to blink to determine how close it is to the route you have flown real world.
For instrument work it is excellent for handflying not so good although passable with some of the addon aircraft.

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Old 10th Jan 2013, 12:02
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Agree. One of the biggest drawbacks for VFR flying in MSFS is that you cannot "look out the window", so you start to rely on instruments way too early in your flying career.
That's only true out of the box. If you're prepared to invest in some decent monitor real-estate and a Track-IR (plus as has been said, proper flight controls and a decent aeroplane model - Realair make the best imo) you can absolutely achieve realistic enough VFR flying without any reference to instruments if you so choose. Without that investment I'd agree it's not helpful.

ianwild is offline  
Old 10th Jan 2013, 13:03
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Realair make the best imo)
Too true ; )

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Old 10th Jan 2013, 15:11
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Try this, looks prettier than RANT and is free. There are other simulators on there, too.

luizmonteiro - Online Simulators - HSI Simulator

I found it invaluable when learning holds.
mightlookstupid is offline  
Old 14th Jan 2013, 10:38
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Join Date: Jan 2013
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I am not a pilot, but I have a some little experience in the air. I think MSFS is more for fun than training but it depends on what the simmer wants. It has a lot of addons which make MSFS hard and "close to the reality". You should check the PMDG custom airplanes or (if you are that kind of person) the so called "Project Tupolev" (there are lots ot youtube videos - try search "PMDG MSFS" etc. if you havent already). There are also sceneries. The VATSIM community is great. Also there are sites which provide professional air traffic control (for a small payment) and it gets really interesting practicing real and live radio chat with ATC, during virtual flight.
Ofcourse nothing can substitude the real flight, the real experience and the real flight instructor. The flight model of MSFS is far from reality. But everithing else is nice and usefull i guess.
Actually from my experience i could recommend "IL-2 STURMOVIK"(with the latest patch 4.11) for a flight model closest to the real flying (spins, stalls ..., historical aircrafts from the WW2 and a lot, lot of fun.)
Best regards!
enfe is offline  
Old 15th Jan 2013, 01:52
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I have a mate in the UK who is an A320 driver and for some reason every X months needs to demonstrate a precision NDB approach? he uses FSX to bone up on this. I have used FSX to hone my intercepting radial skills for VOR's and flying DME Arcs (looking to get my IR ticket someday) Sometimes i even shoot the odd CAT II approach into NZWN, the great5 thing about FSX is you can dial in exactly the weather and VIZ you want so you can have 0 Viz to 500ft pop out of the cloud layer and hopefully the runway should be in front of you. very useful, but should never be used for VFR nav or flight skills there is juts not enough feedback for this and the power bands are usually unrealistic. In FSX i can barrel roll a tommie easily... not to sure the real thing would do it and hold on to the wings.
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Old 16th Jan 2013, 01:48
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Have a look at Rant. I could see that using fs at home, especially without a full set of flight controls might lead to becoming lazy or gaining bad habits on checks, startup procedures, that kind of thing as they are easy to skip when you want to just get in with flying holds or whatever. The joy of Rant is that it already assumes you can fly, and it becomes just cursor keys to turn etc, I know that sounds contradictory to what I said above, but I have tried both and Rant does leave you free to think much more about situational awareness and the ground track/vertical profile/effects of wind whilst being abstracted from the cockpit. One further thing I found was that trying to practice instrument skills and partial panel on a computer rather than with an instructor has lead to a poor scan that I get by with but needs work to improve. One thing about doing that part for real is that a good instructor will be able to tell where your scan is deficient and coach you to improve it. Hope this helps.
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