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Simulating Flight Training

FlightGear could also be helpful when learning to fly aircraft. Flight training is carefully regulated by the government, to ensure that aircraft generally stay in the sky until their pilot intends for them to come down safely. There are thus some real concerns which need to be addressed before authorities can approve a system.
  1. Do the controls feel, and operate, sufficiently like the ones in the aircraft that a pilot can use them without confusion? Are they easier to use and/or do they obscure dangerous real-life effects?
  2. Does the software provide a forward view that is representative for the desired training environment?
  3. Are the instruments drawn such that a pilot can easily read and interpret them as usual? Do they have the systematic errors that often cause accidents?
  4. Are the cockpit switches and knobs intuitive to operate?
  5. Operating within the limited envelope of flight configurations that is applied to the training activity, does it match the manufacturer's data for aircraft performance?
  6. Are weather settings accessible to the instructor and sufficiently intuitive that they can change them quickly?
  7. Are there easy mechanisms for causing the accurate simulation of system failures and broken instruments?
  8. Can the pilot conduct normal interactions with air traffic control? Can the instructor easily determine whether the pilot is complying with the control instructions and record errors for subsequent review?
  9. Is the pilot's manual for the simulator similar in content and arrangement to that of the aircraft being represented, such that it can readily be used in flight by the pilot?
  10. Can all maneuvers be performed in the same way?
In that (partial) list of concerns, the quality of the actual flight simulation (which is really what FlightGear is offering) is a minor topic and and acceptable performance is easily achieved. In contrast, a large package of documentation must be added to the software to explain and teach people how to use it correctly. This has led to a number of separate projects whose goals are to meet or exceed the standards created by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

It is easy to suggest that the FAA is being unrealistic in requiring this documentation, but they are responding to important traits in human nature that won't go away just because they're inconvenient.

For example, the things learnt first leave an almost unshakeable impression and, at times of severe stress, will over-rule later training. Thus, any false impressions that are learned by a beginning student through using a simulator will tend to remain hidden until a dangerous and potentially lethal situation is encountered, at which time the pilot may react wrongly and die. Pilots who use a simulator on an ongoing basis to hone their skills will get an excessively optimistic opinion of their skills, if the simulator is too easy to fly or does not exhibit common flaws. As a result, they will willingly fly into situations that are in practice beyond their skill proficiency and be at risk.

Clearly, a flight simulator (such as FlightGear) can only safely be used for training when under the supervision of a qualified instructor, who can judge whether the learning experience is beneficial. The documentation materials are essential to supporting that role.