I am a big supporter of flight simulators as a training tool. But, like every tool, there are several drawbacks to using it. In this post we will go through a few of the shortcomings that simulators have when learning to land.
You can’t feel the plane
A big part of the getting the muscle memory and physical skill involved in landing is based on your almost subconscious feeling of the way the airplane is moving. When you are floating just above the pavement your main goal is to keep the aircraft on a steady track despite shifts in the wind and ever-changing airspeed.
When your body senses a pull to one side you can react without thinking with corrective rudder. In the simulator you can only see this motion, so there is a bit of a delay.
The same effect occurs with sinking. As the aircraft loses airspeed it will want to sink and for the early part of the landing you generally want to resist sinking to lose more airspeed. Again, your body can feel this happening a bit faster than your eyes will see it.
The effect of this disadvantage is small, but important.
You can’t see properly
This one has to do with peripheral vision. In a simulator, you generally can’t see out the side of your eyes like you can in real life.
In real-life your eyes can see just about 90 degrees on each side, which is a huge amount of extra information coming in. When landing this means that you can see the pavement racing by out the side and front windows. This little bit of extra information helps your brain to put together an estimate of how high you are in real-time.
I believe modern virtual reality headsets will mitigate this factor somewhat and eventually peripheral vision in a sim may be just as good as real-life.
Your controls feel wrong
When you land a real plane your controls begin to feel “mushy” as the plane slows down. This is simply because there is less air flowing over the wings and you need lots of aileron to get any sort of roll control at all. The same is true for your other control surfaces as well.
In the simulator, the yoke or stick is often very sensitive because there is no feedback to push against. There are some force feedback joysticks out there that may help with this one somewhat.
Despite these drawbacks there are some serious positives to using a simulator to learn how to land.