The Computerized Flight Instructor

Flying right seat on a PCATD

Tom Gilmore, MCFI
Reprinted with Permission, © 2001 NAFI Mentor.

When I first became a flight instructor more than 34 years ago, I never imagined I'd provide training for my students using a computer. But technology has changed, and the new tools we now have available can make our jobs more efficient and productive.

Several years ago the FAA gave its blessing to officially log 10 of the required 40 hours during instrument training on a PCATD (personal computer aviation training device). Like a flight training device (FTD), PCATD time must be logged under the direction of a qualified instructor, and an approved instrument curriculum must be used.

Working with a fully approved PCATD requires the CFI to be familiar with all the software and hardware (rudder pedals, radio stacks, yokes, and other tools). Instructors who have worked with approved flight training devices, like the desktop ATC-610 or an enclosed Frasca, will realize FTDs have some limitations. They don't feel and respond exactly like an aircraft—and neither does a PCATD.

Likewise, instructors should explain to students all of the pros and cons of using a PCATD before the first session of its use—clients can become frustrated if they don't understand the device's limitations.

Because it takes a light touch to keep a PCATD stabilized on heading and altitude, in desperation some students may say they would rather fly a real aircraft. Yet, I've noticed that when we fly a real airplane, these students have the same problems—primarily over controlling the aircraft and poor scanning techniques. The PCATD amplifies the instrument trainees' weaknesses in a more sensitive manner. I think this is one of the best reasons to use it.

PCATDs are primarily used to learn and practice the procedures and techniques before using them in flight. This saves fuel and reduces student and instructor anxiety and the amount of head-down time in the real aircraft, which eliminates possible midair collisions.

PCATDs offer the option of loading any published airport, intersection, NDB, VOR, ILS approach, or waypoint into a wide variety of photo-realistic aircraft. Students enter the actual frequencies for a given location in the avionics stack with real, turning knobs. Even the instrument panel can be set up to the specifications of your students' aircraft, including HSI, FD, GPS, and moving map. Failures can be preprogrammed or set up on the fly, and weather can be brought down to minimums or less-challenging "soft" conditions.

I find holding patterns, DME arcs, and full approaches are best learned on the PCATD first. All these tasks require good positional awareness, and the PCATD allows me to pause a flight and take a momentary look at my student's track on a map page. When students have an exhausting time visualizing their position while doing these exercises, the map mode is extremely helpful.

There's no substitute for training in real IMC conditions—we know this from training in simulated IMC with view-limiting devices. The fact remains that preparation training done on the ground with any flight simulation device can drastically reduce the learning time in the cockpit. When training is split between the PCATD and the aircraft, training for the instrument rating is more efficient. It takes fewer total flight hours to obtain the rating in the actual aircraft, thereby saving your client money—and making you look more professional.

Tom Gilmore is the owner/operator of Gilmore Aviation Services, where he specializes in advanced instrument and multiengine instruction

Training Plan

How one instructor spends 10 hours in a PCATD

Author: Mike Crowell, MCFI
Reprinted with Permission, © 2001 NAFI Mentor.

Well before PCATDs were authorized for logging training time, I tried an experiment. My friend Dwight decided to work on his instrument rating, so we set up a computer with a control yoke, pedals, and a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator. We used real Cessna 182 checklists, charts, and approach plates. After eight hours of training we got into a real 182. As a new private pilot with about 60 hours, Dwight had never flown a 182 before, yet with minimal coaching he flew a flawless ILS approach under the hood, and he even managed a nice transition to visual and landing. I was sold on the concept of the PCATD.

In our instrument training program at Mission Aviation Training Academy, we use a PCATD for the full 10 hours. Depending on the student's schedule and desires, we either do the PCATD time as a block to lay the foundation for the rest of his or her training or we spread it out throughout the training program at appropriate intervals. Either way, we find the time to be productive.

One of the prerequisites for logging time on a PCATD is a syllabus—we can't fly random hours on the device to fill up the time. No specific syllabus is mandated, so instructors can create their own, adapt an existing syllabus to their needs, or use an existing one as published.

According to several FAA inspectors I've talked with, the syllabus must be "Part 141-like." The instructor should be able to pick it up and see specific performance objectives and parameters for each lesson. Obviously, a syllabus is only a guide, and we find we sometimes have to adapt the course to the specific needs of individual students. We also find the PCATD to be a tremendous tool for review after the initial 10 hours, even though the time can't be logged. I use the PCATD regularly to "pre-fly" approaches that are new to me and to keep my scan sharp.

Here's how we use the PCATD in our Part 61 training program:

Lesson One (1.0 hour)
Basic instrument flying skills—scans/interpretations/control
Straight and level
Standard rate turns
Airspeed control
Constant airspeed climbs and descents
Prescribed patterns
Review ground tracks
Standards: Effective control of the aircraft within 200 feet, 20 degrees, and 20 knots as assigned; perform standard-rate turns; exhibit knowledge of material.

Lesson Two (1.0 hour)
Standard rate turns
Steep turns
Timed turns to magnetic compass headings (introduction of partial patterns)
Prescribed patterns
Review and solidification of basic instrument skills
Review ground tracks
Standards: Effective control of the aircraft within 150 feet, 15 degrees, and 20 knots as assigned; exhibit knowledge of material.

Lesson Three (1.0 hour)
VOR/VOT accuracy checks
VOR navigation techniques
Homing, intercepting, and tracking VOR radials
DME arcs
Prescribed patterns
Review ground tracks
Standards: Navigate using VOR, including use of DME arcs, flight maintained within 150 feet, 15 degrees, and 15 knots as assigned; exhibit knowledge of VOR procedures.

Lesson Four (1.0 hour)
ADF orientation/NDB navigation
Homing, tracking, and intercepting NDB bearings
NDB full approach
Review ground tracks
Standards: Navigate via NDB, intercepting, and tracking while maintaining flight within 150 feet, 15 degrees, and 15 knots as assigned; exhibit knowledge of NDB/ADF procedures.

Lesson Five (1.5 hours)
VOR holding procedures
Direct, parallel, and teardrop entries
VOR approaches
Radar vectors
Review ground tracks
Standards: Correctly enter and hold at VOR while maintaining flight within 150 feet, 15 degrees, and 15 knots as assigned; exhibit knowledge of holding procedures.

Lesson Six (1.0 hour)
NDB holding procedures
Standard and nonstandard holds
Partial-panel NDB holds (all entries)
Intersection holding
NDB approach
Review ground tracks
Standards: Correctly enter and hold at NDB (partial panel) while maintaining flight within 150 feet, 15 degrees, and 15 knots as assigned; exhibit knowledge of holding procedures.

Lesson Seven (1.5 hours)
VOR approaches
Missed approaches
Radar vector VOR approach/full approach
Partial-panel approach and missed approach
Review ground tracks
Standards: Perform VOR approaches within 100 feet of assigned altitudes and three-dot deflection; understand and comply with clearances, approach-plate procedures, and exhibit working knowledge of VOR approaches and missed-approach procedures.

Lesson Eight (1.0 hour)
ILS vector and full approaches
Localizer-only approach
Localizer BC approach
ILS and Localizer missed-approach procedures
Review ground tracks
Standards: Perform ILS and LOC approaches without descending below DH or MDA; maintain 10 knots of assigned speed; arrive at MDA prior to MAP; execute missed approach as appropriate; glideslope within less than full needle deflection and localizer two-dot deflection; exhibit working knowledge of ILS and LOC procedures.

Lesson Nine (1.0 hour)
Review of PTS standards and minimums
Departure procedures
Navigation to airways
Steep turns
Unusual attitude recovery
VOR and ADF holding (partial-panel)
Systems and equipment malfunctions
VOR and NDB approaches (partial-panel)
Missed approaches
ILS approach
Review ground tracks
Standards: PTS—know and understand all PTS requirements for the instrument rating.

Pastor Michael Crowell is executive director of Mission Aviation Training Academy in Arlington, Washington. He is a CFII, an advanced and instrument ground instructor, and an FAA safety counselor.

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