Introducing Non-Aviators to the Flying Experience

Shawn Arena

Experiencing the world of flight by actually sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft manipulating the flight controls is one of the most exhilarating, inspiring and surreal events an individual can encounter. And being able to share that experience with friends, family and significant others is an amazing opportunity. But sometimes, it can be difficult to convince them to go up with you, and share the experience. Not everyone is ready to jump into the cockpit right away. However, without being in an actual airplane, there are many ‘ground based’ and alternative flying options that will let them take a peek into the flying experience, and help ease them towards giving the real thing a try.

It’s Almost Like the Real Thing

Aviation, similar to other industries, has benefited from the explosive growth of technological advances. Advances such as the ‘glass cockpit’ and ‘fly-by-by-wire ‘automated systems, have become industry mainstays in commercial aircraft. However, you may have also noticed technological advances have evolved that can make one feel ‘as good as the real thing’ without having to pay ‘real thing’ prices. Flight simulation alternatives have filtered down to the most cost-conscious general aviation pilot.

Ranging from full-motion simulators used at flight schools at nominal costs, to computer-based-flight simulation programs you can easily install and use on your personal computer at home, the options to peek into the exciting world of flight are growing. These high-definition, real-world graphic presentations, allow outstanding platforms that opens a door for one to start looking into the exciting world of flight.

Hangar Flying

Bring them along to spend some time hanging around fellow pilots and aviation entusiasts down at the hangar. They’ll very quickly find out the meaning and importance of ‘hangar flying’. Just as the name implies, one of the most talked about, yet informal activities in aviation is when two or more pilots sit around in a hangar and talk aircraft and aviation.

While these sessions can turn into the ‘fish stories’ of flying, they can also serve a very important purpose of fostering and promoting a passion for flying. This activity can also be incredibly helpful when veteran pilots talk to student or newly minted private pilots. I guarantee you that you will walk away with more firsthand, real-world information than you can find in any flying magazine or even a ground school class. If you are like I was, you become a sponge taking in all they can offer – at no charge! This also helps to set them more at ease with the idea of flying as they hear others talk about it openly and candidly.

While you’re there, you might also take the opportunity to introduce them to the idea of a discovery flight. As I mentioned in a previous article, taking a discovery flight will also allow them the opportunity to get a real taste of the flying experience by taking a quick hop around the pattern in an actual training aircraft.

Also, if there’s an airshow in town, don’t miss it! This is a great opportunity to spend time with a crowd of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, see a variety of vintage and new aircraft and see some great flying firsthand.

Flying Scenarios

Another really fun yet educational experience is to go to a concessionaire which has World War II and current aircraft simulators configured to accomplish a specific mission. My son and I went to one such concession at the Mall of America in Minneapolis…what a blast!

Even though I had been actually flying for several years at that point, this real-world simulation was very worthwhile. I chose the U.S. Navy / USMC FA-18 Hornet and my son chose the P-51 Mustang. There were two scenarios programmed into our session: a dogfight and a night carrier landing. Needless to say, my son ‘waxed my tail’ in the dogfight session, but I greased a perfect ‘trap on the number 3 wire’ on the carrier, one that Maverick and Goose would have been proud of!

Westward Ho

Regardless of the avenue you choose, there remain a variety of opportunities that you can use to help introduce your friends and loved ones to the flying experience. And these is just the tip of the iceberg – in order to keep things brief, I left out (not intentionally) options like hot air balloons, glider flights, ultralights and more. So without getting into the actual cockpit, one can experience the world of flight from as many angles as there are fair-weather cumulus clouds on a spring day!

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Flight Simulator Training: Cutting Costs and Improving Skills

Stimulation by Simulation

Vern Weiss

A long time ago they discovered that training pilots could be done more efficiently if there were a means to duplicate the objectives of instruction given in an aircraft. Not only could pilot training be cheaper but some maneuvers could be accomplished without the window of vulnerability for hazards that comes with some training scenarios when attempted in an aircraft.

A Brief History of Flight Simulator Training

Very rudimentary ground-based simulators had been developed to teach pilots target practice during World War I. It wasn’t until a musical instrument manufacturer and hobby flier became dissatisfied with his own flight training that the first functional simulator became a reality. In 1927, Edwin Link used components from church organs to build his first simulator which featured spartan generic cockpit controls and instruments mounted on a movable platform. Other than erratic and wobbly instrument indications and movement of the student’s seat in the trainer, it provided little else. Even so, Link sold the idea to the military and manufactured some 10,000 of these Link trainers. The Link trainer remained the standard for pilot simulator training until the mid-1950s when Pan American Airways contracted the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company to develop the first full-motion, aircraft-specific simulator. At the same time, United Airlines bought the same simulator but added a visual display which was provided by a camera moving over a model of miniature cities and ground terrain.

Over the years the development of flight simulator training has steadily improved and its value increased. As aircraft operators noticed the cost-effectiveness of using such devices, government agencies took notice as well and began to offer “relief” from some pilot licensing requirements when simulators are used.

The Flight Simulator Training vs. Aircraft Issue

At the center of the simulator-versus-aircraft training issue is the credit toward pilot certification for one over the other. For the purpose of this narrative let’s confine our discussion to flight simulation that comes under the watch of the US Federal Aviation Administration. Other countries have their own governance such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that define their own certification criteria. In order to receive FAA approval for use of a flight simulator, it must meet many design, functional and demonstrable requirements. In other words, the PC computer program, Microsoft® Flight Simulator does not satisfy those requirements. Although some maintain the program is helpful to pilots for casual use, it fails to meet the strict demands of the FAA regulations as a training tool.

The classifications of simulators have become confusing and sometimes clumsily blurred. In fact, there are over 30 such classifications worldwide! Simply stated, the difference in the classifications is this: If the simulator has a letter designation (i.e. Level “C” simulator) it moves and costs big bucks. If the simulator has a numerical designation (i.e. Level “5” simulator), it doesn’t move but still costs a lot of dough (although not as much). The higher the number or letter, the more sophisticated the device. Only devices that move are recognized by the FAA as “simulators.” Those that don’t are considered “trainers” or “devices.” The big difference is that full flight simulators can be used to meet most requirements of a pilot check-ride whereas partial credit for training hours is all you can expect from a trainer.

The 7 Levels of Flight Training Devices and 4 Levels of Flight Simulator

Level 1 flight training devices (FTDs) are no longer manufactured and those few that still exist have been grandfathered into the approval process, but it is unlikely you will encounter one today.

Level 2 FTDs are also no longer manufactured although some operators still use theirs that were grandfathered into the approval process years ago.

Level 3 FTDs are no longer approved however some continue to be in use. The FAA now considers those Level 3 trainers as “Advanced Aviation Training Devices” which is a new classification that we’ll cover later.

Level 4 FTDs consist of a touch-screen and are used only for procedural, navigation and flight management system training. Such trainers are generic and do not have any distinction between aircraft class such as single engine or multi-engine nor do they incorporate a control yoke. These are similar to what is known as a “cockpit procedures trainer” and today the FAA is only officially certifying them for use in helicopter training. They do exist for airplanes however their use is not approved for the training requirements of fixed wing ratings. Visual systems are not required.

Level 5 FTDs begin to look more like an aircraft and are configured with aircraft class attributes (single-engine, multi-engine etc). While Level 5 trainers are certified as representative of a generic single-engine aircraft, some manufacturers are producing Level 5 devices with specific attributes of a particular model of aircraft. Level 5 trainers require special FAA certification and a control yoke, but a visual system is not required.

Level 6 FTDs must be designed and certificated to provide you with accurate function as well as tactile, aerodynamic and spatial relationships (i.e. as you increase power you receive instrument indications of a commenced climb and increased backward pressure on the yoke requiring input and trim). A physical cockpit with accurate controls and instrumentation is required, but a visual system is still not required.

Level 7 FTDs must be model specific with all applicable aerodynamics, flight controls, and systems including a vibration and visual system. These trainers are presently only certificated for helicopters.

But wait! We’re not done yet!

A new classification of FTD has appeared on the scene: The Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) and the Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD). What makes the BATD and AATD confusing is that certification by the FAA is often subjective and without specific criteria as defined by regulation. To further muddy the water…although the BATD and AATD is a flight training device and not a simulator, it is not required to move; however, it might, depending on its manufacturer! Furthermore, even though an AATD may offer motion it still does not qualify under the FAA guidelines for meeting the requirements of pilot training in the same way that a full flight simulator would. An AATD can save up to a maximum of 10 hours of aircraft flight time toward your instrument rating and 2.5 hours toward your private license. Like any FTD, an AATD assists in making you more familiar so as not to require repetitive practice while an aircraft Hobbs meter is ticking away (which means: $$$).

What do the “Big Boys” (and Girls) Use for Flight Simulator Training?

Now that all this talk about the 7 levels has given you a headache, let’s add the coup de grâce to send you running for the aspirin bottle: SIMULATORS.

Mercifully there are only 4 categories of full-flight simulators, Level “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.”

Level “A” simulators are now gasping and wheezing and nearly extinct. In fact, there are only about a dozen left. They’re required to provide motion of course but provide only rudimentary visual displays and less sophisticated aerodynamic modeling such as the properties of ground effect. Level “A” simulators are only certified for fixed wing aircraft and not helicopters.

Level “B” is slightly more sophisticated than Level “A” simulators although only a handful remain in the US. 80% of an FAA type rating may be completed in one, but the remainder of the check ride must be accomplished in an actual aircraft. These simulators provide you with a higher degree of aerodynamic feedback, physical movement on their motion bases and better panoramic visual displays. In addition to widespread use for airplane training, this is the lowest level simulator that is approved for helicopters.

Level “C” simulators are only slightly different than Level “B” simulators. The visual displays are improved and both feedback and response time is more realistic. Only Level “C” and “D” simulators are approved for a full pilot proficiency check. Other simulators can be used for instrument portions of your proficiency check, but credit is not given for the landing portion as is permitted in Level “C” and “D” versions.

Level “D” simulators are approved for use for a full type rating because of their sophistication. This is the highest level of simulator currently available. In addition to sound, these simulators can even generate smoke in the cockpit to simulate a system fire; no kidding! Full daytime and nighttime visuals are required as well as 150 degrees of up, down and horizontally accurate visual displays. Such simulators are incredibly expensive with a price tag that runs between $1 million to $40 million, depending on whether your shopping with coupons.

So What’s the Best Way You Can Save Money with Flight Simulator Training?

The answer to this question is simple: utilize some form of training device that will not only save money on aircraft rental/expense but also permit you to make mistakes, practice and repeat maneuvers until you are confident and comfortable.

Today there are a lot of different flight simulator training devices being manufactured and the question as to which one is best for you comes down to either an AATD or a Level 5 FTD. Right now the FAA credits more FTD training time toward your license when you use a Level 5 FTD than with an AATD. To be fair, however, there is an FAA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to grant applicants the same credit toward a license or rating in either type of training device. What a student should not ignore is the enormous benefits offered in a Level 5 FTD over an AATD. A Level 5 FTD provides far greater fidelity in feel, response and performance and the experience is closer to what you experience in a real aircraft. At the same time, the Level 5 FTD is aircraft specific whereas an AATD is generic and is to flying like foosball is to playing real soccer.

The bottom line is that Level 5 FTDs provide better quality training because the perceptions are well defined. In the event that the NPRM does not become law, Level 5 FTD training will still stand head and shoulders above AATDs, not only by saving you a great deal in cost on the minimum hour requirements but by making your training time much more realistic and efficient.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.


FAA Advisory Circular 61-136A November 17, 2014

FAA Advisory Circular AC-120-40B July 29, 1991

FAA Part 61 Regulations

Federal Register, July 6, 2015 NPRM Aviation Training Device Credit for Pilot Certification

FAA Flight Simulation Training Device Qualification (FSTD) Bulletin 10-02

Telephone conversation with Jeremy Brown, Frasca December 2, 2015

AOPA “ABCs of Simulators” Alton Marsh May 1, 2011 (

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