A Bonanza pilot's first exposure to simulator-based training at Recurrent Training Center.
May 5, 1998
It wasn't exactly what I had
Let me explain. I am a 1,500 hour pilot with about half those hours in a V35A Bonanza I
have owned for seven years. I fly about one hundred hours per year a combination of VFR
and (mostly) light IFR in our usually mild Central California climate. I have participated
in the American Bonanza Society's Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program on three occasions,
that fine program consisting of a day of seminars followed by four hours of instruction in
the airplane over the following two days. Other than that, it has been IPC's which I would
occasionally skip because I had satisfied the currency requirements for hours in the soup
and approaches. I had never done any sim training.
I expected sim training to allow me to refine my skills handling systems failures and
emergencies in the clouds: gyro failures, electrical systems failures - things that could
not safely or realistically be simulated in the airplane. I also expected the sim would
behave like a Bonanza, even if the controls didn't feel like one and the switches weren't
in the same place. Certainly, I thought, they must load a Bonanza floppy disk into the sim
that models Bonanza flight characteristics in different power/speed/gear and flaps
configurations. I would, I thought, come out of sim training being able to respond to
emergencies like a robot without even thinking.
My first reaction to RTC's AST 300 sim itself was disappointment.
This thing doesn't behave like a Bonanza, the visuals are rudimentary, and it doesn't seem
to reflect current computer technology. But after an hour or so of flying the sim, its
unique flight characteristics had become more familiar to me, less distracting, and I was
shooting approaches without much problem.
The sim is a lot harder to fly than the airplane. But that's not a bad thing. I quickly
realized that the sim was going to improve my scan. Take your eyes off the AI for more
than five seconds and you would find yourself in a turn. The Bonanza's stability had made
me a bit lazy.
The real eye opener came during the LOFT part of the program on day two. While in a
hold awaiting approach clearance, my pressure pump failed in a turn. The failure froze the
gyro, and my attempts to level wings resulted with the airplane on its back before I
figured out what had happened. Was the failure mode realistic? Who knows...but it was sure
a lot more realistic than an instructor sticking a rubber disk over the gyros, and it
increased my respect for the insidiousness of such a failure.
After getting the airplane squared away I called approach, declared an emergency, and
asked for vectors to the nearest airport with an ILS. The sim went into freeze mode.
"Chris, do you really want to fly vectors and an ILS with a whisky compass? How about
asking for no gyro vectors and a no gyro approach to the nearest airport that has the
capability." I had never though of that. In fact, I had never thought of a number of
things the sim training exposed me to.
My expectation of becoming an emergency procedures robot
were unrealistic. The sim training proved to be more of a thinking exercise than a doing
exercise. The biggest lesson I learned: not to be a do-it-yourself pilot. I had been
taught not to count on ATC for anything except separation. Don't count on vectors,
information, or anything else from the controller: fly pilot-nav everywhere. In sim
training at RTC, I learned that in an emergency a substantial amount of workload can be
offloaded to the controller, and I learned how to ask for it. It's an emergency, after
Would I trade my American Bonanza Society training for sim training? No, who better
than ABS to teach specific systems and pilot technique for that airplane? They do a good
job. But I definitely plan to alternate ABS training with sim training. That should cover
all the bases.