by Jonathan M. Stern
In the early days of Flight Simulator, instrument flying was a necessity because the out-the-windscreen visuals were of such low quality, in terms of colors, detail, and resolution, that instrument approaches were the only reliable way to find the airports.
While the visuals on Flight Simulator have dramatically improved, so has the quality of the instrumentation. Only with the release of Version 5.0 did the VOR omni-bearing selectors become capable of selecting any radial, not just even-numbered radials. Likewise, the choice of indicated or true airspeed on the airspeed indicator, rather than a readout of only true airspeed, first appeared on Version 5.0. Another improvement came with the display of slant range distances on the DME readouts. Now, VORs and NDBs from the entire Continental United States, as well as many navigation aids from other parts of the World, are included on the standard database.
The instrument flying aspects of Flight Simulator have always been of great interest to me. Instrument flying provides a greater challenge than does basic visual flying. Instrument flying calls for careful planning and precise execution of every flight. This is true in a real airplane as well as with a simulator. Moreover, PC-based flight simulators such as Flight Simulator provide much greater fidelity with respect to instrument flying than they do for visual flight. It is for these reasons, that I wrote Flying On Instruments With Flight Simulator in 1986.
The non-instrument flying aspects of Flight Simulator have also seen vast improvements in recent years. Christopher Columbus would be pleased to know that the Earth is no longer flat, as it used to be in Flight Simulator. The opportunities for exploration have vastly expanded as new scenery areas have been added to the standard Flight Simulator world. The equations used to define flight have been modified to yield more realistic flight performance by Flight Simulator's airplanes.
Vast improvements have also been made in the visual presentation of scenery, including texturing and cybergraphic techniques that yield very realistic looking terrain and buildings. With version 5.1, the appearance of terrain continues to improve as default scenery takes on the appearance of the country's farm fields and cities reflect widespread industrial and residential areas. In Autumn, the summer's greens are replaced with the reds and oranges of the changing leaves. Also in version 5.1, thunderstorms and certain clouds take on the turbulence and icing conditions that are expected in real life. Moreover, visibility is controllable downward to 1/16 of a mile, making instrument flight necessary when the weather dictates.
In April of 1994, 1 attended my first conference on aerospace simulations. The conference, which was held in Dallas, was sponsored by MicroWINGS, Inc. A number of the participants at the conference who had read Flying On Instruments With Flight Simulator encouraged me to write a new instrument flying book—one that would cover the many changes to the Flight Simulator program made since 1986. That is what I set out to do. Along the way, however, the folks at BradyGames convinced me that there were many Flight Simulator pilots who were not ready to jump straight into instrument flying, simulation pilots who would want to start at the beginning. Accordingly, long after I thought my work was done, I began writing the visual flight section of this book—Chapters 1 through 9. The result of this work—Microsoft Flight Simulator Handbook—is suitable for a Flight Simulator pilot at any stage, from beginner to expert, to learn to fly on Flight Simulator and perfect takeoffs, landings, cross countries, and instrument approaches, among other skills.
Part I. Visual Flight
In Chapter 1, we'll set up the Flight Simulator software and take an introductory flight. In Chapter 2, we will spend some time in ground school learning about the airplane and its components, basic aerodynamics, instruments, preflight operations, and airport and traffic pattern operations. Although Chapter 2 involves more reading than flying, it is still peppered with examples that are to be experienced at the controls of Flight Simulator. With Chapters 3 through 6, we'll learn to take off, climb, perform aerial maneuvers that all private pilots must demonstrate, and return to the airport and land. Landing is one of the most difficult maneuvers for pilots to learn, and I provide some tips for improving landings.
Chapter 7 describes the procedures for checking out in the different airplanes included with Flight Simulator—the Cessna 182RG, the Lear 35A corporate jet, the Schweizer 2-32 sailplane, and the Sopwith Camel bi-plane. If you have the stomach for it, try out some of the aerobatic maneuvers described in Chapter 8. Finally, in Chapter 9, we'll discuss the limitations of visual flight and learn some of the reasons for continuing on with instrument flight training.
Part II. Instrument Flight
Instrument flight begins with Chapter 10, where we'll learn about in-flight breakups and geographical disorientation, two of the hazards of flying on instruments without knowing how. Chapter 11 introduces the use of navigation and communication radios, including a detailed discussion of the air traffic control system in the United States. Basic attitude instrument flying is covered in Chapter 12, where we learn to fly solely by reference to instruments. In Chapter 13, we review meteorology, including how to program meteorological factors into Flight Simulator. In Chapter 14, we explain enroute and approach charts, which are the charts used by pilots flying in instrument meteorological conditions.
Chapter 15 explains how to plan an instrument flight, both manually and with several flight planning software packages. In Chapter 16, we discuss the steps to take to set up the Flight Simulator program for the instrument flight—either manually or using Real Weather Pilot. Chapter 17 covers departing the airport on instruments and flying the enroute phase of the flight. We review regulations regarding pilots, aircraft, and flight plans. Then we fly trips from Boston to Windsor Locks, Los Angeles to San Francisco, Port Angeles to Everett, Champaign to Chicago, Chateaudun to Paris, and Innsbruck to Munich. In Chapter 18, we learn to fly the various types of instrument approaches. We cover different types of VOR, NDB, and ILS approaches.
In Chapter 19, we address several advanced instrument procedures, including holding patterns and flying after instrument failures. Finally, Chapter 20, "Understanding ATC," provides additional detail on the role of the air traffic controller. There, we discuss several programs that simulate air traffic control, one from the pilot side, others from the ATC side.
Most initial instrument flight training is done in light single-engine airplanes, often of the high-performance variety. With its constant-speed propeller, 235 horsepower engine, and retractable landing gear and wing flaps, the Cessna 182RG falls into this latter category. The airplane flies in an airspeed range that causes it to be included in the slowest category of airplanes during instrument approaches, a plus for making the instrument flying tasks more manageable. The airplane's systems are relatively simple, which makes aircraft familiarization easier. Finally, the aircraft is relatively easy to fly.
On Flight Simulator, the Cessna 182RG is the most accurately modeled airplane. Therefore, performance data from the real Cessna 182RG are useful with Flight Simulator and lead to reasonably realistic flight planning and execution. For these reasons, this book focuses on the Cessna for instrument flying. Nonetheless, the instrument flying skills and procedures are very similar in other aircraft, and the Lear 35 is also used to illustrate the instrument flying procedures that are discussed.
From the outset, I wish to acknowledge the many unnamed authors whose contributions in the form of Federal Aviation Administration publications have been used in preparing the material for this book. Much of the information was learned a long time ago from, and more recently refreshed by reference to, the Airman's Information Manual, Flight Training Handbook, Instrument Flying Handbook, Aviation Weather, Aviation Weather Services, and the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. Illustrations from these books are used throughout the Microsoft Flight Simulator Handbook.
As you make your way through this book, keep in mind the most important control on your keyboard—the P key. Unlike flights in real aircraft, Flight Simulator can be paused with a stroke of the P key and unpaused with another stroke of the P key. Don't hesitate to take advantage of it!
If you're ready to join the world of simulated flight, place this book in front of your PC, strap yourself in, and turn the page.
Jonathan M. Stern