Once you understand the intended purposes of the different types of training devices, you can make better decisions about the kind of simulator training that best fits your specific needs. Here’s a closer look at each type of training device:
Flight Simulator Training Device (FSTD) — These are the large full-flight simulators operated by airlines and companies like FlightSafety International and CAE Simuflite. Incorporating highly realistic flight modeling, systems and controls, these big-ticket devices feature top-notch visual presentations, accurate sound and the very best motion platforms the industry has yet to develop. Strap into one of these babies, and you might have a hard time believing you aren’t somehow smashing a hole through the side of the simulator bay as you streak toward the flight levels.
Flight Training Device (FTD) — One rung down in sophistication are FTDs, which are used to train pilots on specific families or models of aircraft. Most feature accurate aerodynamic and systems modeling but usually do not include motion. Still, this is the primary type of simulation device you’ll find at many general aviation and airline training facilities. Frasca International has long been one of the best-known manufacturers of flight training devices.
Personal Computer Aviation Training Device (PCATD) — You can probably thank Bill Gates for this one, since it was Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series that first demonstrated the value of a personal computer as an aviation teaching tool. The FAA approved the use of PCATDs in May 1997 for 10 hours of credit toward the 40 hours needed for an instrument rating. Their adoption introduced a new class of devices that weren’t quite as good as flight training devices, but which still offered a level of realism that was far better than that of early professional flight simulators. Since PCATDs hit the scene, an entire industry has sprung up around them to supply PC pilots with yokes, rudder pedals, realistic instrument stacks and more. The most popular PCATDs are those sold by Elite Simulation Solutions and Aviation Supplies & Academics, both of which focus on instrument training and proficiency.
Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) — Advances in PC technology in the last decade led to the creation of an FAA advisory circular in July 2008 outlining the requirements for approval of two new types of simulator, the Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD). These two new classes of devices replaced the PCATD and some FTDs, while also giving welcome rise to a more streamlined approval process, including clearer guidance on how pilots could use such devices in training.