Why all the growing interest in low-cost flight simulators?
Some announcements at this week’s Sun ‘n Fun show in Lakeland, Fla., for example, underscore wannabe and regular pilots’ fascination with these devices. Redbird Flight Simulations introduced its new low-cost Jay device, which, while it can’t be used to log time, promises to help pilots stay proficient. And Pilot Mall today unveiled the Advanced Panel, which is a modular instrument panel with flight and other controls that works with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) software.
X-Plane simulator software and FSX have built up huge followings, and software developers have created detailed regional and airport graphics and precisely modeled software that replicates in mind-numbing detail an incredible variety of popular and obscure aircraft. You can practically start and run a virtual airline, fly under the direction of live air traffic controllers and learn how to use the latest avionics with these programs, including a unique head-up display plug-in that a company called FlyRealHUDS.com developed for X-Plane. And iPad apps ForeFlight Mobile and WingX Pro7 can run on X-Plane and many other apps as well can run on FSX with simulated position shown on the iPad moving map.
It’s almost as though there’s no need to fly a real airplane anymore.
And that’s why these programs are so popular. The cost of flying real airplanes has outgrown the budgets of many a pilot and remains a huge obstacle to new pilots. So if they can have 90 percent of the fun of flying with a simulator that runs on computer equipment that they already have, that’s what they’re going to do. And that is what they are doing.
You can’t blame the simulator manufacturers and software developers for catering to this market. After all, many of their products are used, like Redbird’s full-motion low-cost simulators, to make real flight training far more efficient. And airline and business aviation flying wouldn’t be nearly as safe today were it not for the advent of training providers such as FlightSafety International, CAE SimuFlite, SimCom and others. Certainly X-Plane and FSX are used by pilots to maintain proficiency or practice an approach to a new or challenging airport.
But it is kind of sad to think of someone who could be out in the sunshine, climbing into a cockpit and slipping the surly bonds for real instead firing up the personal computer and harnessing the electronic magic for a simulated jaunt in the comfort of home.
Maybe flight schools could figure out a way to insert ads into some of the simulator software, as a way to attract new business and get existing clients out to the airport. Something like: “Shoot this ILS successfully and get a discount on your next rental.”