Since World War II, a flight simulator that replicates the operation and performance of real aircraft have played an ever larger role in educating pilots because they are effective and economical teaching tools. Taking many forms, they serve students at Addison Airport’s flight schools, American Flyers, ATP, and Monarch. And the device from which they all grew, the Link ANT-18 Basic Instrument Trainer, is on display at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum.
These are not video games. As they are in real airplanes, each lesson in a simulator has a specific learning objective. What makes them unbeatable teaching tools is that the instructor can freeze the flight to discuss a student’s understanding of the skill being learned to improve performance, something not possible in a real airplane. Students get the most out of this discussions because they can focus on them entirely, in a quiet place where they don’t have to divide their attention to flying the airplane and looking for traffic.
When a student is doing well, the instructor can increase the challenge by changing the weather, and to examine the recognition of and solution to an emergency, the instructor can cause an instrument or system to fail. Many of these emergencies cannot be safely simulated in flight, nor can they easily be combined to prepare students for the challenges they present.
American Flyers has used simulators since 1939, said Brad Morrison, director of training. Computers have replaced the original’s complex electro-mechanical systems, making them much more capable and economical. Driven by software similar to Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Planes, the flight controls and visual displays challenge students with high fidelity control feel and sight pictures of the real thing, including the terrain.
The school uses different sims at its two locations. For initial training it’s an rudimentary enclosure with a instrument display and screens that replicates the layout of the school’s training aircraft but duplicates the Cessna 172’s performance. In a dark room at its Airline Training Center is a faithful duplication of a next generation Boeing 737. Students use it in their final phase of training, building on the skills they learned in single and multiengine Cessnas, where they learn not only how to fly the jet but to work as effective two-pilot crews.
ATP also uses two different simulators, said Chief Flight Instructor Spencer Toews. One, made by Redbird, is dedicated to learning the operation of the Garmin G1000 integrated flight display and avionics system, the “glass” cockpit found in each of its Cessna 172 training aircraft. The other sim, at left, can be configured as a single or multiengine aircraft with glass or tradition round “steam gauges,” which they will encounter in their flying after training. In this device they learn, practice, and demonstrate the skills necessary for flying in visual and instrument conditions.
Monarch employs a similar simulator, with equal capabilities, with its students. No matter how the simulators are configured, no matter their number or displays or shape of their enclosures (or lack of them), common to all of them is the instructor’s station. Another advantage to computer-based simulators (officially known as advanced flight training devices) is that flight performance, weather, and emergencies are now menu items, many of them automated. In their electro-mechanical predecessors these configurations involved a lot of switches and other inputs that divided the instructor’s full attention to how the student was meeting the challenges presented.