In part one of this blog series, we explored what the new Microsoft Flight Simulator is all about and how to get started. If you haven't read that article yet, we suggest you start there. Assuming you've got the simulator up and running, and you're proficient in planning a flight, the question naturally comes up: what do you do with it? In this article, we'll cover some scenarios to try, from fun flights to VFR maneuvers to instrument procedures and even emergencies.
We'll start with the fun. Here are six fun flights I would execute if I won the lottery tomorrow:
- Recreating Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight - I’d recommend a much faster bird than the Spirit of St. Louis so it doesn’t demand 33 hours of your time like it did his, but still a fun flight to recreate.
- Fly the Alaskan coastline in the XCub - Sure you can cruise around in a 210 or something that drinks avgas faster, but to take in the view around the same speed you would on the highway… but from 1000 feet. There’s something tranquil about that.
- Follow in Cal Rodgers footsteps - Retrace the first 4,000-mile transcontinental flight. Mr. Rodgers accomplished his feat in 1911 and it took him just over 82 hours of flight time at an average pace of 52 miles per hour. I’d recommend a much faster airplane, but it would be a nice homage to this aviation trailblazer.
- Flight to Devil Hills/Kitty Hawk - Touch down at the mecca of aviation where the Wright brothers opened the door to powered flight. Plan an approach from the south and take in the Outer Banks.
- Appreciate the African savannah from 1,000 or less AGL - I highly doubt that giraffes will be rendered in the game, but I can assure that there will be some beautiful sunsets from that continent.
- Enjoy the Eiffel Tower at night - The last fun flying scenario—and the least legal —is to enjoy the Eiffel Tower at night. I haven’t experienced the joy of viewing this landmark in person yet, but I know it would be fun to see from the sky above Paris at night while the lights are ablaze.
We’ve taken in the sights and re-created some of the world’s most historic flights, but what if we want to utilize the physics programmed into this system? Let’s try some VFR maneuvers.
- Power-on stalls - During flight training, these used to guarantee I would have a sweaty shirt during our debrief, but eventually they became fun. With a simulator teetering on the envelope, don’t be afraid to see what happens when you kick the rudder to full deflection in a power-on stall.
- Crosswind approach and landing - This can be a great maneuver aimed towards really seeing what some strong crosswinds can do. Take the wind up to your plane's maximum tested level and see just how hard it is to land the aircraft in those conditions.
- Rejected takeoff - This may seem like a boring maneuver to exercise in a simulator, but it’s one that will be appreciated in a real world scenario that demands it. Add a new challenge by repeatedly aborting the takeoff at continuously later stages to find the absolute limit of the airplane's braking performance.
- VFR into IMC - This maneuver is meant to give the VFR pilot a taste of what Instrument flying is like. It's very dangerous in the real world, nonetheless it’s a good maneuver to practice in a simulator by flying into a wall of overcast clouds and slowly flying a 180-degree turn while maintaining altitude and airspeed.
- Mountain flying with a required chandelle - The chandelle, which means candle in French, is believed to have originated in dogfighting and allowed the pilot to reverse direction in a minimum radius climbing turn. Personally, this was my favorite maneuver throughout my training and my request to fly one on my check ride somewhat took the examiner by surprise. Although you can’t find any dogfights in a 172, you can apply this maneuver to mountain flying. If you find yourself in a canyon and realize the walls are closing in around you, this is the advised maneuver to turn back the way you came in the smallest lateral footprint.
- Takeoff and landing at a high density altitude airport - Once you have become accustomed to the takeoff roll in your simulated airplane of choice at a home airport in normal conditions, go take off from an airport with a high elevation. Or find one around 3,000 MSL and crank outside air temperature to 100 degrees and bring the barometric pressure down to 29.50. This will greatly reduce the performance of the engine and in turn lengthen your takeoff roll.
VFR maneuvers are fun, but we also want to try something challenging that demands precision and flight in instrument conditions. Following are six scenarios that we like to practice involving instrument flight.
- Zero/zero takeoff - I’ve never flown an actual 0/0 takeoff but I simulated over a dozen while training and I’ve flown about just as many in the simulator. This is a great challenge for rudder control on takeoff and also tracking desired heading once you’ve left the ground.
- Intercepting and tracking VOR radials - This maneuver is aimed towards precision in navigating, which is a requisite when flying IFR. A simulator is a great way to quickly test the sensitivity of intersecting a radial 30 miles out from the source, versus 5 miles out.
- Holding procedures and entry - These can be very intimidating tasks but through repetition and some mental math, they become secondhand. Try flying holds off a created waypoint and then upgrade to flying holding procedures off of missed approaches. Try flying a timed hold rather than a distance-based hold for extra credit.
- DME arc - The DME arc is a rare maneuver but still a challenging one and once completely understood allows for better navigational abilities.
- ILS down to minimums - This is an IFR maneuver I try to fly once a week. If I ever find myself in a scenario where I need to land at an airport with weather just above minimums, I want to have this procedure down pat. For an added challenge, I’ll sometimes throw a crosswind in once three miles out to keep my scan inside the plane from getting fixated, while also searching for those lights outside the plane.
- Circling approach procedure - This procedure is one of the least used approaches in the world of localizer and RNAV approaches, but it's still a useful scenario to practice. Attempting to grab a $100 coffee and the morning fog hasn’t cleared up at your preferred smaller airport? This just may be the way you earn that coffee.
Now we’ve covered some VFR and IFR maneuvers in addition to fun scenarios, but if you still want to turn up the heat, let’s discuss emergencies. I’d like to pause a second and explain the different approach I take when it comes to training for emergencies. All the scenarios previously discussed are things we can look forward to flying in the airplane or in the digital world. When it comes to emergencies, we train for these so that if we ever experience one, we are properly prepared for it. If you are a pilot and want to use a simulator to strengthen emergency flows, I can’t stress enough the value of chair flying and learning the concrete flows before jumping into a digital simulator. Once consistency and confidence is reached in these simulated emergencies, then we can utilize the simulator to analyze the results of our inputs in these critical phases of flight.
- Emergency approach and landing - The emergency approach and landing is the most probable emergency we will see as aviators. Whether from fuel starvation or engine failure, it’s good to know the best glide of your airplane and find out the range and approach that works for your bird.
- Engine failure during climb out - While we can practice an emergency approach and landing in real training, we should save the engine failure during climb out maneuver for the simulator. What to do in this scenario should be covered in every departure briefing but here we are actually able to test what would happen to the airplane and what our sight picture would be. Try neutralizing the engine at 200 feet AGL, then 400, then 600, then 800. Try killing the engine at pattern altitude and see if you have the maneuverability to make the 180-degree turn back to the runway. Now run that same cycle and throw a 12 knot direct crosswind into the mix…
- Electrical failure at night - Electrical failures at night are a real problem and they test our ability to aviate, navigate, and communicate. Simulate shutting off the electrical system over a busy area like Manhattan, then try the same emergency over rural Oklahoma. Ground lighting will noticeably affect ability to fly the plane and it’s a better lesson to learn in a simulator than in the real world.
- Emergency descents - These are a very fun maneuver in real life and in the flight simulator. They simulate if we have an emergency with a passenger and need to land at an airport beneath us while in cruise. It’s a great test of airspeed control and creates a sight picture that is very rare in flying.
- Power-off 360 accuracy approach - This is a great test of control of the plane and analyzing all your numbers to make sure you can make the landing where you would like to. This maneuver is taught in the Commercial phase of training and its execution requires great control of the plane and energy.
- IFR flight with pitot blockage - This may be one of the most dangerous emergencies in my eyes. When you lose an engine whether in VFR or IFR, you know it from the loss of noise. When the electrical system goes out, it’s glaringly obvious. When the pitot port is blocked, it’s difficult to diagnose because you have other instruments providing information that can counter what the airspeed indicator is telling you. I’ve spoken to a few pilots who’ve experienced this condition and while they were appreciative of their training, they’re glad the numbers say they’ll never experience that again.
To say the least, the 2020 Microsoft Flight Simulator program is a beautiful and richly designed product. For many it will be a game, for some it will be a training tool. When pilots pack for their next flight, there’s usually an objective to accomplish, whether it’s taking the family to a new vacation destination, traveling to a new airport to try the local cuisine, or flying to a familiar stomping ground to tell lies in a hangar. Microsoft may not be able to accomplish either of those previously mentioned objectives, but they will offer the ability to explore our diverse world in a never before available clarity, and offer a unique training tool along the way.
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