In Celebration of Simulation Improving Flight Safety One Byte at a Time

by Susan Parson, FAA Safety Briefing

In his 2008 book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," author Malcolm Gladwell posits that one thing high achievers in any field have in common is adherence to the so-called 10,000-hour rule. Based on a study by Florida State University professor Anders Ericsson, this “rule” holds that success in a given activity is based not so much on talent, but rather on lots of practice.

It would be wonderful if we could all log 10,000 hours of actual flight time, but that’s probably not feasible for those who fly for recreation or personal transportation. However much we might want to, most GA pilots have neither the time nor the resources for that level of activity.

Enter the simulation option.

The air carrier world’s long and well-documented use of simulation for training and checking clearly demonstrates both the benefits and the value of this approach. Fortunately for all of us, today’s simulation technologies provide a myriad of low-cost opportunities — everything from smartphone apps to motion-capable training devices — for GA pilots and mechanics to strengthen their knowledge and skills.

To that end, we devote this “Sim City” issue of the FAA Safety Briefing magazine to raising awareness of the range of simulation options, and explaining how you can use them to enhance both training and the “in real life” flying you do after certification. Here’s the overview:


Air carrier pilots have long been able to use sophisticated full-motion simulators for training, certification, and checking in commercial airliners of all sizes. Indeed, many passengers might be astonished to know that they are flying — safely — during a fully-qualified pilot’s first time at the controls of the real airplane.

That level of simulation capability and credit is not yet available to pilots training for certification in typical GA aircraft. Still, today’s aviation training devices (ATDs) offer many opportunities to learn basic and advanced skills and earn log-able time in an effective and cost-efficient way.


In both the VFR and IFR operating environments, aviation is very procedure-oriented. Whether for learning the basic skills and procedures you need to master for a new airplane or simply getting more practice with those you already use, simulation technologies can help you maintain and even enhance your ability to aviate — that is, maintain precise control of attitude, altitude, and airspeed.


With an ever-expanding range of airborne navigation technologies, handheld and desktop simulation products can help you safely learn both the mechanical “knobology” and the content organizational scheme of your major moving map navigator. We’ll also take a look at how simulation can allow you to practice flying planned routes and procedures long before you line up on the departure runway.


While it may be an exaggeration to say that pilots fear the microphone more than anything else, the jargon-rich chatter and patter of aviation can be intimidating not only to newcomers, but also to veteran pilots unaccustomed to the rapid-fire pace of ATC communication. Happily, pilots can use a number of simulation options both to master the fundamentals and foster fluency in “AviationSpeak.”


Perhaps the best-known use of simulation technologies is in safely acquiring, perfecting, and maintaining the procedures and skills needed to successfully handle inflight emergencies. Using simulation for risk management — i.e., identifying hazards, assessing the level of risk, and developing mitigation measures — can also help you prevent actual emergencies.

In addition to the many real benefits it offers, simulation can be downright fun: it lets you experience events you can’t feasibly or safely do in the actual airplane, and it keeps you immersed in our collective favorite subject regardless of weather or aircraft availability.

So join us in this journey through Sim City. Read on!

Susan Parson (susan.parson@faa.gov, or @avi8rix for Twitter fans) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
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FAA Safety Team

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