• Flight Simmer to Professional Pilot

    Flight Simmer to Professional Pilot

    By Ken Glaze

    Some of you might remember me from 2004 and 2005 when I wrote some FlightSim.Com articles, or from the 35 repaints I've published for various aircraft. If you do, you'll know that it's been a long time since I've posted here. The reason for my absence is I now get paid to fly airplanes. If this piques your curiosity, please read on; I'll tell you about how I did it and how flight simming helped (and didn't help).

    A self-portrait, showing a commercial ride being loaded into a Schweitzer 2-32. The tow rope is slack, the actual distance between tow plane and glider is roughly twice this distance in flight.

    I started flying in 1984, but I'll start this story in 2007. This was the eighth anniversary of my cubicle job and the seventh anniversary of my return to real-life flying after an 11 year absence. This was also when I realized that I couldn't stay in that cubicle job forever. The money was good, but I was tired of word processing all day and could tell that staying there wasn't an option.

    This was also the year when I fulfilled a goal by earning my tailwheel endorsement in a Super Decathlon (using 215RV, available here at FlightSim.Com as a repaint). When that plane left the rental fleet, I switched to flying a 115 HP Citabria. One thing I want to point out here is FS2004 does not model tailwheel handing well. I tried using the sim when I was first learning tailwheel planes, but I found it over-simplified the ground handing qualities of these planes.

    One day after flying the Citabria I found a "tail dragger pilots wanted" poster from Sky Sailing, Inc, at Warner Springs, CA. Minimum time to be hired was 100 tailwheel hours, so I decided to use the Citabria to build the flight time needed to qualify for the job, and for the commercial pilot certificate.

    By 2008 I had most of the time for my commercial logged, so I heeded that old adage that "To make a small fortune in aviation, start with a big fortune" and I left my cubicle to spend my savings account on learning to fly full time.

    The next step was to get my instrument rating. Here was where my hours spent on simulators really paid off. Simulators are good for practicing the techniques and mental discipline needed for instrument flight; in fact the first two days of my instrument rating course were spent on a simulator before switching to a Cessna 172. The instrument check ride went well, despite a fail on my first oral exam because of a careless error on my cross-country planning.

    The commercial training was a little easier; however, there was no flight sim preparation for this one. The commercial certificate is all about aircraft control and no desktop simulator is going to train you for that. I passed the check ride on the first try.

    In May of 2010, after a few months of preparing for my Flight Instructor's certificate, I applied to Sky Sailing and a month later I got the call-back. I was warned to expect a thorough check flight in the company's Super Cub and that's exactly what happened. Steep turns twice around and in both directions; 180 degree engine-out turns at both high altitude AND at 200 feet AGL. It was one of the most intense hours I've ever had in a plane. Did simming help? No. This was pure airmanship, and no sim (short of a full-motion machine) can reproduce the total sensory overload caused by this sort of flying.

    My "office" in the Pawnee. I use the mirrors to keep an eye on the glider. No instrument flying in this plane. The indicated RPM sign is a reminder to carry power throughout the descent, to avoid wrecking the engine from shock cooling.

    In a matter of days I was signed off to tow gliders on my own. Within a month I was flying all three tow planes, an Super Cub, a Piper Pawnee and a Intermountain Callair. I found out later that this was a faster than normal progression into these planes. I think this was mostly due to good real-life training and my experience flying aerobatics. The sims also helped, but in a less tangible way. I certainly think sims helped in understanding how to handle the plane in the unusual conditions and the "different than standard" flight patterns used at the glider port. They also got me used to changing between different airplanes rapidly in terms of techniques, using different operational airspeeds and systems, and the like.

    During this time I discovered the flight sim called CONDOR. It's a dedicated sailplane simulation that simulates both the airplane and the weather fairly accurately. I bought it mainly to experience the aero-tow for myself from the glider's point of view. Now that I have experience in towing, I can tell you that biggest fault of CONDOR is the aero tow. The tow line is very, very short, and the tow plane banks much more steeply during tow than I ever will. Both of these factors make it extraordinarily difficult to follow the tow plane. Other than this, I've found CONDOR to be useful in learning to understand where lift is, how to recognize it, and take full advantage of it.

    Today, with 1,500+ flying hours and 4100+ tows in my logbook, I look back at 30 years of simulated and real-life flying and see that both prepared me for where I am today. Basically, simulators helped the most when I couldn't afford flying real airplanes. They kept my mind engaged in aviation during that time, which made it easier to re-start flying in 2001, and made my later training easier.

    However, without real-life flight training, I would have not been able to get half as much experience from simulations as I did. Actual flight experience allows you to judge where simulations get it right and where they get it wrong, and without that knowledge it's very, very easy to fall into bad habits when flying simulators.

    In the end, flying is (and always will be) a matter of self-discipline, study and practice and that practice always has to have a real-life connection. Simulators can help, IF you know where they are accurate and where they are inaccurate. The experience needed to judge this only comes from flying real airplanes. Simulators have their place, but without real-life experience the simulated experience is impossible to correlate to the real world.

    I hope you've enjoyed this. If you have questions, email me, or stop by Sky Sailing at Warner Springs, California during the week and I'll show you around.

    Here I am doing my job in the 1964 Piper Pawnee. This tow plane is the best for towing; it climbs well and descends with power quickly. The glider I'm hooked up to flew for 7 hours and covered 400 miles after I towed it to 1,500 feet above the ground.

    The 1967 Intermountain Callair. This tends to be slightly less popular tow plane than the Pawnee. The Callair climbs well, but doesn't descend as fast.

    The Super Cub, the plane I trained in. It's the least powerful tow plane, which makes it more tolerant of pilot error. It's also the easiest to land, if you're patient.

    An example of conditions that my flight instructor didn't (and couldn't) prepare me for. During otherwise rainy conditions in San Diego, it is common to see a clear area about 5 miles wide that runs through the valley almost over the top of the airport, which is just out of frame to the left. If I was flying only for fun, I'd probably stay on the ground, but when I'm getting paid I consider these to be pretty good conditions.

    Ken Glaze

    Tags: ken glaze

    1. tango07's Avatar
      tango07 -
      Ken, You are a very Lucky Man to do this..Best Wishes, Themton ,Toronto, Canada
    1. Mickeyj_71's Avatar
      Mickeyj_71 -
      Hello Ken, just read your article, congratulation for that. I know what it means to become a real world pilot as that happend to me nearly 20 years ago. I started in FS5.1 and trained for assessment center of a major carrier in germany. I made it but that was a tough one.

      I was then trained in real flying in Phoenix/AZ and met lots of US iinstructors who not only tought me flying they told me how hard it could be to stay in that business especially in the US.

      In my training the sim helped me to understand alot of things in instrument flying. Lately i swaped from CRJ to EMJ and i trained some hours on the Feel There EMJ 195. It has a good system depth to get a clue how this bird works. It was pretty good for goin through all normal procedures and FMS programming.

      I can second your opinion bout flight sim vs reality and how to work with it.

      I wish you lots of hours fun and always happy landings!!!

      MJ, Stuttgart Germany
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      Congratulations Ken! Keep on flying and logging time because there will very likely be many more employment opportunities ahead. It is going to be an exciting time in the world of professional aviation!

      Tony Vallillo
    1. neurodreamer's Avatar
      neurodreamer -
      its very nice
    1. kennethg's Avatar
      kennethg -
      Thanks everyone. The flying is a real hoot, lot's of fun. Bigger and better things are in the works, one of them might be flying sightseeing tours of San Diego in a 1928 Travelair.

      Tailwinds, everyone. Thanks again for the kind words.
    1. LikeanF/A18's Avatar
      LikeanF/A18 -
      Hey, Thats a luck!!!
      I wish, that i can do this too. xD
      I'm only 15, but im flying FSX for years, and i hope I can fly by Lufthansa in the future, because
      I have a Glider pilot's license now
    1. kennethg's Avatar
      kennethg -
      You're getting the right start, a glider is the best way to learn to fly. I know you've probably heard it before, but keep studying, that's the best way to get started in flying. The more you know about how the plane flies, the better pilot you'll be.

      Best wishes for your aviation career!

      Quote Originally Posted by LikeanF/A18 View Post
      Hey, Thats a luck!!!
      I wish, that i can do this too. xD
      I'm only 15, but im flying FSX for years, and i hope I can fly by Lufthansa in the future, because
      I have a Glider pilot's license now
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