August 1, 2013 - The airlines learned long ago that one of the best simulator training strategies is to put pilots in predetermined real-world scenarios. They might be an accident situation that is recreated through flight data recorders, or just a particularly challenging flight scenario.
I had the chance to do just that in a Redbird flight simulator here at Oshkosh through the Pilot Proficiency Program, a joint effort of SAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators), Redbird Flight Simulations, and insurance provider Starr Aviation.
All GA pilots are invited to experience this level of training at no charge by signing up at the SAFE tent in the Innovations Pavilion. There they can make an appointment for an instructional session in a Redbird simulator, choosing two flight scenarios from a selection of 10 possibilities. If the schedule is too full, or you can't coordinate an appointment, SAFE will help you contact an instructor and a Redbird simulator operator near your home at a later date.
By completing the simulator session, Starr policyholders are eligible for an accident forgiveness benefit - meaning their rates will not go up should they have an accident.
For my session, I first chose a challenging localizer approach with the option to land straight in, or circle to land in the opposite direction to avoid a 10-knot tailwind. In reviewing the approach beforehand, I already decided that landing a Cessna 172 on a 4,000-foot runway with 10 knots on the tail was less of a risk than circling to land under a 600-foot ceiling. I discussed it later with SAFE Executive Director Doug Stewart, and we agreed that a scenario involving a stronger tailwind coupled with a higher ceiling might have changed the decision-making process. The important part was in opening the discussion and getting me to think.
Adding currency to my flying - even though it wasn't "for real" - was an even bigger benefit. As I discussed with my instructor after the flight (which yielded pretty embarrassing results, by the way), he explained that too many pilots don't fly enough to experience some of the difficult scenarios on the list, and this is a great way to exercise the mental muscle memory that instrument flying involves.