I Spent Time In A Sim Today – And It Counted

My first time using flight simulation software was sometime in the 1980s on the green screen of an Apple IIe. That interest eventually led to my building the Basement Sim

, most construction of which happened three years ago this week. So it seems apropos that today I spent 1.5 hours in a sim and was able to enter it in my logbook as counting against the requirements for my instrument rating.

The short story is that one of the CFI’s at my flight school recently bought a federally-approved sim and has it on the virtual line for student training. We were originally set to spend a couple of hours in a Cirrus SR-20 today (I’m getting checked out on the SR-20), but weather was IFR so we jumped in the sim instead. 1.5 hours later – and a failed attitude indicator, failed vacuum pump, failed airspeed indicator, and a shot of smoke in the cockpit later – we had 1.5 hours of simulated IFR time for the logbook. With this sim I can count 20 hours of sim time against my instrument rating, and I plan to make the most of it. And it should only get better, as today they installed PilotEdge on the sim.

My impression is that the time I’ve spent in my own sim was very helpful in this training. The CFI felt I handled the instrument work better than most people just beginning their instrument training, and I was quite comfortable on the instruments. The big learning today, aside from many technical coaching points the CFI gave me along the way, was the distraction partial panel can cause. The urge to glance at your attitude indicator or directional gyro is quite real, and when you do and it is failed it gives a very incorrect signal to the brain that is likely in opposition to what the other instruments are telling you. I can see why folks might carry some post-it-notes to stick over a failed instrument in real-world flight. But that, too, is something I can simulate in my own rig, and flying around in IMC for a while with a failed attitude indicator is on my list of things to do.

One final impression was how useful it was to have a CFI throw you emergencies and failures. You can set X-Plane to fail systems randomly across a particular time frame

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, but you do know to some extent that it’s coming. I plan to do this at home, but I also left thinking that it’s probably money well-spent to have a CFI put you in a sim and just throw crazy stuff at you once a month. I can’t believe that would make you worse as a pilot.

(And the best part of today was when he had my flying partial panel with a failed attitude indicator and airspeed indicator when the sim threw me carb ice on its own – but a quick pull of the carb heat fixed that particular problem.)

Today’s Real World Cross Country (With A Twist)

Yesterday I used the VR system to practice a real-world cross country flight that I had planned for today: Albert Whitted to Crystal River to Ocala and back. I streamed the dry run, and if you didn’t see it live the entire 2:26 minute flight is online at YouTube (video below).

Today I arrived at KSPG around 10:00 AM already noticing the unfavorable METARS along the route: fog and a low overcast ceiling that was supposed to persist until noon. Walking into the briefing room I said to my CFI, “If we go north we’re going to get stuck on top.” “Yep,” she replied, “so let’s go south.” I’d already made a cross-country down to Punta Gorda, and wasn’t really too excited about retracing the trip. So she suggested a longer flight (so I can log a longer solo cross country when the time comes)

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, down to Ft. Meyers (Page airport, KFMY), up to Arcadia (X06), and then back to St. Pete (KSPG) crossing Tampa Bay from the East. It’s was a lot of fun and we had truly stunning weather along the way.

If you want to simulate it yourself, here’s a link to the route on SkyVector. Climb to 2,000 ft by St. Pete Beach, then climb and cross the Sarasota Charlie and KVNC at 4,500. Once clear of KVNC, descend to 3,500. Once you’ve done the touch-and-go at Page fly the route back at 2,500.


And again, here’s the vid of the (incorrect) dress rehearsal.

Cross Country Number 1 Complete

After five cancellations dating all the way back to Spring in Pennsylvania (and four flight instructors), I finally got my first cross-country flight requirement out of the way today with a hop from Albert Whitted to Punta Gorda and back. The weather was wonderful and the sight seeing fantastic. Lots of traffic along the way and plenty of Bravo and Charlie airspace avoidance, but it was a fun flight topped by a request by Whitted tower to fly a short approach – my first. A few more flights then it will be time for my solo cross country. I can’t wait. Here’s the route and a brief video from along the way.


Real World Update: Going Somewhere

I’ve finally settled in with a new CFI here in Tampa and we’ve picked up my flight training after a bit of a layoff thanks to the move, the hurricane, and my first CFI here getting a job flying jets. I only have cross countries, night work, and check ride prep to complete before trying for my ticket, so I’m eager to get things moving again.

Yesterday we flew from Albert Whitted to Venice and back. It was a lovely day and perfect flying weather. The only wrinkle in the plan was Tampa Approach / Departure not being willing to give us flight following. They didn’t even respond to my radio calls, in fact, and apparently they’ve been reticent to responded to any GA traffic asking for advisories for the past while now. This meant we flew lower than I would have preferred, and that we skirted the Sarasota Charlie airspace, but so it goes. Here’s a link to the flight track on Cloud Ahoy.


And here’s a very brief clip I shot along the way. I also simulated the flight two days ago and ran the GoPro while doing so, and will post that video soon. Next flight is a cross country up to Ocala and back, and I’m looking forward to it.


That’s what I did today – finally went flying, settling in to a new CFI, new airspace, and new aircraft. Here’s the new bird, a Piper Archer II:


More horsepower, and I could tell. Also slightly different avionics and a Garmin 430 GPS, which is new to me as well. Today was a get-to-know you ride, and once in the air I wasn’t as rusty as I had feared with the exception of steep turns and ground reference maneuvers, but the landing was very comfortable. The new CFI is a stickler, which I like, and I learned a few things along the way as well.

Perhaps most exciting is the airspace:


KSPG Albert Whitted is a radar-equipped Class Delta, so I’m talking to ground and tower. It sits under the Tampa Bravo, and is close to the MacDill AFB and St. Petersburg-Clearwater Deltas as well. Lots of traffic in the area, including the occasional Airbus or C-17 passing through. Combine that with the field being directly next to the St. Pete skyline and the bay / gulf overwater flying, and it’s a whole new type of flying altogether. And I really enjoyed it, including keeping visual contact with the Army UH-60 Blackhawk departing KSPG as I was on downwind. Overall it was a really cool flight, and I can’t wait to get re-soloed and continue my real world training.

The next step is to get a solid Archer II profile running in the sim. That will be tonight’s project, time permitting.

Maneuvers Practice (Real World, Full Flight)

I ran the camera during yesterday’s flight. I’ve simulated these maneuver hops several times in the sim, and from a procedure standpoint it’s been helpful. The hardest thing to simulate, at least for me, has been turns around a point. The visibility in the sim just isn’t as good as the real thing.

Real World Solo Laps At KOQN

Readers have requested that I film some real-world flights, but I don’t intend to video in the real airplane often as I don’t want the distraction. But today I went up to practice some solo pattern work, and I plugged in the GoPro with the LEDs turned off and just let it run. Here are a few laps from the flight, and as always, thanks for watching.

Back In The Real Bird

I had a flight lesson today and it was the first time up since December 6th. I was home for much of December, and had visions of completing the next several flights from the curriculum, but weather intervened. It was just not good flying weather for several weeks in these parts. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been on the road quite a bit, so I was excited today to finally get back to the field and go up. Ceilings were too low for maneuvers, and that was just as well because it’s pattern work that I wanted to do to knock the rust off.

And there was some rust, as the below flight track shows. My takeoffs and landings were actually very solid, but the pattern itself was shaky at first. Those first two legs that are way out off track from the others were the first two laps, and after that I settled in. I flew an extended downwind, a turn-to-final, and a power-off landing in three of final four laps, which is why the base legs vary a bit.


So I feel back in the groove, and it’s amazing how relaxed I am after being up. Flying an airplane requires real focus, but it’s a focus that relaxes me, and I love it. Next flight will be a long cross country with my CFI: Brandywine to Harrisburg to Wilmington to Brandywine. We probably won’t get that on the books for a week or so, and I look forward to planning, simulating, and then making that flight.