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Flight Training on the Ground

By Jim Ciccone, FAA Safety Briefing Nov/Dec 2017

As pilots, we love carving out time from our busy lives to jump into the cockpit, fire up the engine and take off, especially us helicopter pilots. However, there are days when getting into a helicopter may not be an option due to bad weather, aircraft availability, maintenance, or some other show-stopper that prevents us from scratching that flying itch. So what are you to do?

When you can’t get in an aircraft, you may want to consider getting into a flight simulator. It’s a good way to continue learning and reinforce your piloting skills. When comparing the cost of most helicopter rental fees, flight simulators or aviation training devices are a lot less expensive to operate. Most of these training devices are aircraft make and model specific, which provides pilots the opportunity to become more familiar with specific cockpit layouts and advanced avionics. You can perform takeoffs and landings, turns, autorotations, and emergency drills all without undue risk. Many flight instructors prefer scheduling time in these training devices because they can be paused mid-flight to discuss key learning points. Even if you’re not working towards a rating, consider getting into a simulator with an authorized flight instructor and run through some flight scenarios.

Another huge benefit for using flight simulation applies to helicopter pilots without an instrument rating, as it can provide a unique opportunity to avoid the traps associated with continued flight into deteriorating weather conditions. A firsthand look into how easy it is to lose visual reference with the horizon, the ground, as well as maintain positive control in a helicopter is a true eye-opener. Many flight simulation devices can be programmed to start out VFR and then slowly deteriorate into IMC conditions. This allows flight instructors to take a realistic approach to demonstrating the effects of unintentional flight into IMC, and the proficiency required to safely control a helicopter by reference to flight instruments. Because not all helicopters have flight instruments that can sufficiently support positive attitude control, these training sessions reinforce the need to conduct a thorough preflight and weather briefing, thus facilitating a safe go/no go decision. The best part is that it’s all performed safely on the ground. After flying a simulator, you may even find yourself compelled to start training towards a helicopter instrument rating. For those pilots who already hold an instrument-helicopter rating, this is an excellent way to chip off the rust and become proficient and current. Additional information on instrument flight can be found in the Instrument Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-15B, specifically, Chapter 8, “Helicopter Attitude Instrument Flying.”

Not all flight schools may have a flight simulation trainer, but because ATDs are becoming more popular (and affordable) in the GA community, it would be advantageous to seek out one that does. So take advantage of some flight time in an ATD. They’re easy to operate, affordable, fun to fly, and your aviation skills will improve making you a better and safer pilot.

Stay safe and keep learning.

Jim Ciccone is an aviation safety inspector with the General Aviation and Commercial Division. He is also an Airline Transport Pilot, and a Certificated Flight Instructor in multi-engine land airplanes, as well as helicopters, with 25 years of flying in the Long Island and New York City airspace.