Your Report on using a flight simulator as a training aid

Hi! I’m Randy Witt. I’m the head of customer support for X-Plane. You recently signed up for a free email course on how a flight simulator can make you a better pilot. When you signed up, we said we would immediately send you a free report on how you can use a flight simulator as a training aid. Read on for that report!

Using a flight simulator as a training aid

In the last few years (and especially since publishing the FAA-Industry Training Standards, or FITS), the FAA has placed a greater emphasis on using simulation throughout all stages of flight training. A growing number of research studies using this philosophy show marked gains in student performance. There has never been a better time, then, to start improving your own skills using a flight simulator.

The X-Plane flight simulator has been used for flight training and engineering purposes by organizations such as:

  • Piper Aircraft
  • Cirrus Aviation
  • Fidelity Flight Simulation
  • Japan Airlines
  • Cessna Aircraft
  • NASA
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • United States Air Force
  • National Test Pilot School
  • Boeing
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Iowa State University

Who should train in a flight simulator?

Student pilots

If you are a student (or pre-student) pilot, a flight simulator can provide a safe environment for learning procedures and building basic stick-and-rudder skills. Under the guidance of a certified flight instructor (CFI) or a training curriculum like Bruce Williams’ “Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator,” you can get most of the benefits of training in a real aircraft without the associated cost or stress. Furthermore, because you control the simulator world, you can minimize distractions from whatever you’re currently practicing, such as bad weather, other aircraft, and so on. Then, once you’re actually in the air, you’ll be more prepared and more confident—you’ll spend less time in the air (saving you money) and you’ll be safer doing so.

Private pilots

If you’re a private pilot, staying current and proficient—whether for a flight review, instrument proficiency check, or simply your own peace of mind—is very important. Using a flight simulator, you can practice takeoffs and landings, instrument navigation, using an autopilot, and so on. Furthermore, you can prepare for tricky or dangerous situations: instrument failures, crosswind landings, navigating storms, and more.

One of the more often overlooked features of a flight simulator is the ability to play back a flight or visualize its trajectory. Doing so allows you to evaluate your takeoffs and landings after you’re through.

Flight instructors

If you’re a flight instructor, you can assign “homework” to students so that they’re better prepared at your next meeting. You can even test student knowledge of the procedures you’re going to fly

What do you need to get started?

In order to practice with a home flight simulator, you’ll need a few things:

  • A fairly new, fairly fast Mac or PC
  • A yoke or joystick
  • Flight simulation software

You may also want an iPad, which you can use with an EFIS flight display like Xavion. (Xavion has a free version that works with X-Plane.) This is especially true if you use Xavion in your real aircraft as an instrument backup, synthetic vision system, or emergency lander.

What kind of PC do you need?

Many flight simulators can run on older computers with the bare minimum level of performance and visuals. However, you’ll want a relatively fast computer to achieve the highest realism. We recommend the following system specs or better:

  • a Quad Core, 3.0 GHz or faster processor,
  • 16–20 GB of RAM,
  • a DVD-ROM, and
  • a high-performance, DirectX 11-capable video card with at least 4 GB of on-board, dedicated VRAM.

The newest 27-inch iMac and the the high-end Macbook Pro laptop from Apple have most of these specs (they lack a DVD-ROM, but a digital download of X-Plane 10 is now available). For Windows PCs, the Asus Republic of Gamers laptops have excellent specifications, as do the high-end CyberPowerPC desktops.

What kind of flight controls should you buy?

While you can use a flight simulator with nothing but your mouse and keyboard, this can be cumbersome and unrealistic (for obvious reasons). We strongly recommended, then, that you use at least a joystick or yoke.

We recommend choosing between a joystick or yoke based on the type of flight controls found in the aircraft you typically fly. Thus, if you typically fly a Cessna 172, you probably want a yoke, whereas if you fly a Cirrus SR22, you want a joystick.

If you don’t have flight controls, we recommend Saitek’s X52 joystick and throttle system, as well as CH Products’ Flight Sim yoke.

Where should you buy flight simulator software?

Since Microsoft stopped work on their Flight Simulator line, X-Plane is the only general-purpose flight simulator still under active development. In fact, we publish new updates and improvements (including new features and aircraft models) to the simulator every few months.

You can find X-Plane 10 Global (including over 40 aircraft models and the full global scenery package) at

If you don’t have it already, you can download the free X-Plane 10 demo from our web site. That demo is almost identical to the full version of X-Plane, except that it will stop accepting input after 15 minutes of flight (after which you’ll be forced to restart the simulator in order to fly more). It also includes scenery only for the Seattle-Tacoma area, rather than the full global scenery.

Until next time …

Tomorrow I’ll send you a guide to practicing approaches in X-Plane. That way, you can start training now and seeing the benefits of the flight simulator. If you don’t have X-Plane already, be sure to install the free X-Plane 10 demo. You may also want to sign up for guide for new users of the simulator.

Until next time,

– Randy