Flight Plan

Simulating to be real

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on February 04, 2020

Simulators give pilots a feel of the action and train them to fly aircraft in normal and challenging situations. Ashwini Phadnis reports

For most of us, a simulator provides an experience of enjoying something that we would not experience in real life. But not so when it comes to the aviation sector, for here simulators play a very significant role in training pilots to fly and also deal with any emergencies that arise during a flight.

Called ‘the box’, a simulator forms a crucial part of a pilot’s life. Essentially a simulator is a machine that simulates the actual flying experience with a lot more thrown in — like engine failure, sudden fog, flying in low visibility conditions or even intense turbulence.

Equipped like a cockpit the simulator has all that an actual cockpit has, including the dash board and instruments, switches to put on the ‘no smoking’ and ‘fasten seat belt’ signs, buttons to ensure that the flaps are at their proper angle and dials which, among other things, show the amount of fuel which is available.

A simulator can simulate the conditions at almost all airports around the world. It also reproduces the sound of an engine to create better situational awareness for a pilot.

All through pilot’s career

Atul Naik, Ground Instructor, Air India, says, “Air India in Mumbai has level D simulators that give an actual feel of an aircraft. A D simulator is capable of handling all the features an aircraft has. The tolerance levels are exactly what they are in an aircraft. The feel in the simulator is exactly as it will be in the cockpit of the aircraft.”


A simulator is needed at every stage of a pilot’s career. Naik explains, “During the training phase, the pilot is told what he should do. During initial JOP or Jet Orientation Programme he will be told how to fly so he will fly the simulator. Then there is a fixed based simulator — when a pilot is supposed to do scan procedures like which switch should be pressed when.”

Following successful completion, the pilot is supposed to do a full flight simulator in which he flies and also does the procedures. “We do the flying part first and the procedures next and then both. Then he undergoes the checks part of it. Directorate General of Civil Aviation-approved examiners and trainers are supposed to check if the person is fit to fly or not,” Naik adds.

According to a senior pilot working with a private airline “Simulators are used to practise mandatory exercises such as stalls, windshear, controlled flight into terrain and jet upsets. They are also used to practise system/engine failures such as pressurisation loss, hydraulic system failures, instrument malfunctions and flight control failures. Most pilots would not face these problems in normal line flying. But it does/can happen and a pilot would be caught unawares if he has never faced such a situation before. Also, biannual simulator sessions help in identifying where a particular pilot may have deficiencies and to correct them.”

The DGCA recognises that the use of simulators for training, in lieu of an aircraft, offers safer flight training, fuel conservation, elimination of aircraft for training, reduction in adverse environmental effects, and reduced cost of training for the operators.

DGCA permits using aircraft flight simulators for various training purposes for the flight crew, including initial, refresher, recurrent, transition, upgrade and others.

The real vs unreal

Though pilots maintain that simulators today are extremely accurate as compared to how an actual aircraft behaves, there are, of course, some differences between a simulator and actually flying a plane.

Says a pilot, “The main difference lies in the fact that no matter how badly you do in the simulator, you can always walk away from it. In a real aircraft, errors can be costly, if not fatal. So, you will always be more on edge if something does happen in the aircraft. Which is why good and thorough training on a simulator is required because it helps you identify and deal with a situation at a time when you are caught unawares and your adrenaline is pumping and you may end up taking the wrong actions if not trained to react correctly and promptly without undue haste.”

Simulators today are playing an even more important role as newer and more sophisticated aircraft are flying across the world. Unlike driving, where you can move from an entry-level car to driving a higher level car with a more powerful engine without batting an eyelid, a pilot cannot move from one aircraft variety to another without undergoing training.

Naik explains that this training is necessary as every aircraft has its own thrust rating, which is the power of the aircraft. “Basically I have a 1.3 litre (engine) and you have a 3 litre (engine) so the capability of the aircraft to fly will be different. (If) one engine fails the aircraft will swing, so the swing is going to be different. (It will also have) different flap settings. The buttons will be different.”

Transition from one variety of Boeing aircraft to another variety of Boeing aircraft is less difficult. But when a pilot moves from an Airbus variety to a Boeing variety of aircraft, then it is hugely different, Naik adds.

Moving from one aircraft to another requires a pilot to do ground training where he learns about the aircraft, its performance capabilities, the procedures required to fly it and its limitations. He has to clear an exam with a minimum pass percentage of 70 per cent.

“Thereafter he trains on the simulator, where he is taught basic handling of the aircraft, as well as flight procedures for different phases of flight and how to deal with non-normal scenarios. There is a check at the end of the training where he is assessed. A pilot has to clear the check before proceeding for actual aircraft training. He then goes for training on the actual aircraft, where he flies with different trainers and learns about the actual line procedures and line flying. He will not be able to proceed further if the trainer feels he has not yet reached a satisfactory level of competency,” adds a pilot.

Published on February 04, 2020

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