By Horst Federau, EAA 1434868, Chapter 63, Lynwood, Manitoba
In 2018, I was invited to take my newly built flight simulator cockpit to an event here in Winnipeg. I had just finished creating an instrument panel, loosely modelled after a generic GA panel. The organization that gave me some space at their booth wanted to drive people to their location on the exhibition floor by offering something unique.
It was a great success and lots of people showed up and took the simulator for a spin, mostly non-pilot individuals that never touched flight controls or interacted with a higher level simulator like this. Young and old, boys and girls alike, enjoyed a great time trying to land the airplane on a grass strip. I was invited the very next year again to do the same thing.
The reason I am bringing up this little story is because of the comments of two different people that stuck with me over the years. One was an older businessman that was standing there and watching so many people flock to the sim. When I commented that I was surprised at the numerous wannabe pilots, he just said, “That is because it looks very inviting and people are always drawn to flying.”
The other person was also standing beside me as I watched people fly. I asked if he had tried it yet. He just looked at me and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was here last year already. Once I had flown the simulator, it pushed me to go to a real flight school and start my PPL training.”
These two experiences and comments made me realize that there might be a great unrealized potential with these flight simulators that is not being tapped into. Now, I am not referring to your standard run-of-the-mill desktop simulator with a joystick, but one that simulates more than just flight and can also simulate a real cockpit environment or, at the very least, an instrument panel.
Flight training schools offer discovery flights at very affordable prices, but they can be intimidating for younger people, or those that are not sure of the whole experience. It can be quite frightening and overwhelming for some to be put in a small airplane, taken into the air (especially when it is bumpy), and asked to enjoy the experience. Especially when you are 10 years old.
Many moms and their kids have come by my simulators over the years and were appreciative of the fact that the “somewhat” real experience in a simulated cockpit was there and without having to spend lots of money and schedule a flight at a local flight training facility.
Based on my personal experience with these sorts of events and interactions, I would think that maybe simulated cockpits with higher level flight simulator software have the potential to open the doors for promoting aviation that is not realized in all organizations. They are inviting and non-threatening and can trigger an interest in a young mind that could lead to the next step in getting into real-life flying.
Maybe they (simulated cockpits) can be viewed as more than just flight training devices.
In my opinion, any organization that claims to promote aviation and educate people about it, should have one of these units sitting in their office, just to entice and invite anybody that is interested to come and take it for a spin. It might not just be future pilots that are interested. Being inside a real cockpit and interacting with flight controls and instruments can be a trigger that can pique the interest of future airplane mechanics, engineers, or any creative mind.
The current state of off-the-shelf simulators is such that accurate and high fidelity simulated cockpits or instrument panels can be built at very affordable prices. It is not Microsoft Flight Simulator 1998 anymore which is burned into so many minds. This is a whole new ballgame.
Having been in the IT world for several decades, I have come to understand many of the technical aspects of GA-certified flight simulators used by so many flight schools. The truth of the matter is that they use the same flight simulator software that you and I can buy online. They don’t provide any additional features, other than being able to log your flight hours. If the same quality, fidelity, and accuracy can be offered at an exponentially lower cost, why aren’t more organizations taking advantage of it?
The gap between having an interest in aviation and actually enlisting in a flight training facility used to be big. But with these new simulated cockpits and flight simulators, maybe there is now a tool at hand that can bridge that gap in a less threatening and costly manner. The transition can be made easier, and, if someone doesn’t want to follow the PPL path after “flying” one of these sims, at least they won’t be stuck with a huge bill.
Finally, a less exposed aspect of these simulated flying machines becomes evident at the other side of the spectrum, at an older age when medical conditions or other circumstances prevent an individual from enjoying a few hours of flight, even if it virtual. I have had many visits from older pilots that could no longer fly a real airplane, due to various circumstances in life. They absolutely loved the feeling of being back in the cockpit and going up into the sky again.
In other words, there is a bigger social aspect to these simulated cockpits that could be tapped into by many organizations that are promoting aviation, be it through educating or just offering something that past technologies could not provide without huge costs.