When pilots start out with their simulator training they often complain about how hard the sim is to fly compared with the real airplane. And this is true. The sim, despite being switch for switch and airspeed for airspeed identical to the airplane it is replicating, is not the airplane and you can tell. The very best (Level-D) simulators are very good at what they do, but they still land a bit strangely, they still give G-force feedback in sometimes unexpected ways when doing maneuvers, and they still demand much better performance if pilots want to get the same results as in the airplane.
When you think about it, we really do want the sim to be more demanding, so when we emerge from it, we are better pilots than we’d otherwise be.
The downside, however, is obvious. Give it half a chance and the sim will ruin your day. No pilot coming to a training center for the first-time type rating escapes unscathed. That is part of the beauty of it, though. The challenge is great and the attention and performance have to be too.
Still, the truth is, pilots who want to get their type at a training center will have to do battle with the sometimes fiendish peculiarities of the machines in which we train. The good news is, the challenges of the sim can be conquered. The even better news is there’s a lot to be learned from it.
Who Needs It?
As you probably know, a type rating is required for any large airplane (over 12,500 pounds) and for any turbojet airplane regardless of its weight. Almost always, the type-rated pilot needs an instrument rating too. There are exceptions, such as the Ford Tri-Motor, for which a pilot can get a VFR type rating. While weight is defining on the top end, at the lower end it’s not. Even though the Eclipse 500 weighs just 6,000 pounds, a pilot needs a type rating for it. That means passing a check ride, which in many airplanes can be done right in the Level-C or Level-D simulator. One can, of course, train in an actual airplane. In some cases, that might be the only option. In other cases, pilots who already own the airplane will sometimes choose to train exclusively in it. I’d recommend against that, though, simply because there are too many things you can do in a sim, like a dual-engine failure on climb-out — that you probably don’t want to try in the real airplane.
For those people looking to get that coveted single-pilot certification, it’s much more dependent, actually, on the hardware than the pilot. Depending on the pilot’s experience, there might be limitations on the type rating obtained in the sim, including additional time, normally 15 to 25 hours, flown with a qualified mentor pilot. Smart first-time type-rated pilots coming out of the sim wouldn’t have it any other way. As with any rating, after getting typed, there’s still a lot to learn.
The phantom regulatory presence here is the aviation insurance industry, which smartly sees to it that newly type-rated pilots, if they or their company wants insurance, get additional experience after coming out of training.