Can you use a gaming software to train for the real world PPL/CPL/ATPL?
I first used Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS) back in 1998 at the age of 16 when it was newly released and difficult to get hold of including finding a computer device to play it on! It has really grown since then and technological advancements in computing power has only made it closer to reality. Already back in 2000, I was doing flying circuits in a Cessna 172 with limited desktop power and that was quite something. I remember the software already offered flight lessons back in the olde versions and now its up to a new level mark completely.
We ask ourselves, why would we want to practise or train with MFS when we're training already in the real aircraft?
Well, flight training is very expensive and a typical 40-50 hours PPL training package costs quite a bit of money! This training package does not include extra flying lessons and so often people end up taking a few more hours of practise lessons before doing the final practical test. Just this alone can cost a $1000 and upwards! Continuity in flying skills is what makes it easy to pass a skills test. Sometimes due to VFR weather rules, you may not be able to fly for some time in certain places. A break in training then means you end up using your next lesson practising part of the last lesson again and this delays the syllabus which at the end puts you behind and costs you more. Using MFS to practise on what you have learnt with your instructor will keep your skills up to date and you can adapt much better when you go flying again.
Did MFS help me before becoming an Airbus First Officer?
I graduated from flight school back in 2008 during the global economic recession. I was jobless for over a year before my career breakthrough. Throughout my flight school, I flew the B737NG add on in MFS (at the time I used PMDG). I think now MFS already offers quite a few jet aircraft and has created closer to reality experiences. You can still buy more advanced add-ons and at the time that's what PMDG did. It even had an almost fully functioning FMCDU. This made my type rating much easier later on in the career so you see MFS does help in several ways. Upon graduation, I had initially got a job flying the Airbus A320 but it only lasted 7 months. After this it was a long wait before I found a new job flying. It was very expensive to rent a real level-D flight simulator just to keep my flying skills up. Again MFS came in very handy. I installed an A320 add-on (since I was rated on it), and practised almost every day various proficiency check items. I knew this is what a sim check with an airline will include and so I kept at it throughout this period. To make MFS flying close to reality you definitely need to invest in at least a good joystick. Now days, you can buy hardware that comes close to imitating reality which is quite something!
I used to every evening do a simple 30-45 minute route with the A320, e.g. London to Amsterdam. This allowed me to go through the full routine from start up to a full shutdown at the gate on the other end. I even connected an extra monitor and plugged an HD cable into my large home TV screen. This allowed me to put my vital instruments on the second monitor and have a large exterior view displaying on the TV screen. I felt sometimes I was in a real simulator! I practised MCDU route programming, flying skills (sometimes in cruise, I used to disconnect the autopilot and practise steep turns, manual thrust, climbing/descending, etc before putting the aircraft back on the routing). Then during descend, disconnect the autopilot and manually fly a raw data approach into Amsterdam. I used to save my progress at certain parts so that I could come back to that point and redo an approach or change the type of approach/weather conditions. MFS had many limitations back in 2008 but I still managed to gain so much out of it that in todays latest 2020 edition, you really have no excuse to not train with it. To see more on the new gold edition simulator by Microsoft, click the image link below:
Also, check out the hardware options available. Click the image link below:
Do you need a real level-D simulator? Yes! regulation requires license endorsements and pilot training to take place in these full motion flight simulators, however for personal training and skills practising, No! I only rented and paid a hefty price in the real flight simulator prior to going for an airline job selection. The reason for this is because in MFS you don't get that same 100% reality and feel for the machine. The side-stick or real yoke, pressures on applying rudder, the vibrations and turbulence, etc. All this plays a crucial role and so it is best to invest in the real simulator just to put all the skills you've been practising on to the test. I was very surprised when I went into the full flight simulator as I performed extremely well and this was mainly thanks to all the MFS sessions I had previously done in the comfort of my home cockpit! This also meant I passed my airline selection and got that First Officer job I had long been waiting for.
I have now been flying the Airbus for over 12 years and been a Captain for the last almost 3 years of my career. I will always look back remembering how time flies and things change. From that home television view powered by an HD cable to the real sunset at 39,000 feet.
I will always be grateful to the power of software and MFS for creating close to reality training at a very affordable price considering the costs associated to the real training packages out there. As a professional aviator and pilot, I would highly recommend using it for your flight training.
Wishing you all the best in your training and great careers ahead. Fly safe, and be well.
Capt. Faraz at FlightCopilot.