Sunday, August 10, 2008

Soaring simulation software for training

I've written before about programs such as Sailors of the Sky and Condor, which are glider-specific PC-based flight simulators. Recently some instructors have described their experiences with students who have used Condor before or during their flight training. These students have required fewer flights before solo or testing for their PPG - sometimes quite significantly. PC-based simulation like Condor does not qualify as a "simulator" under the FAR's, and time on it cannot be logged, but it can be very helpful.

Our club Board decided to offer a Condor training environment to our student pilots. I donated a used PC of adequate power, another member donated a 21-inch monitor, and the Board funded the rest of the equipment and software. I did the purchasing, configuration, and installation. From concept to completion took about two months. Total cost to the club was about $450, since most of the hardware was donated.

We cleared out some dedicated space in our clubhouse, and bought a computer desk. The PC includes a force-feedback joystick, rudder pedals, and speakers. The force-feedback joystick allows some realistic aileron resistance, and provides a shaking warning to simulate pre-stall buffet. The rudder pedals are important to enable students to properly learn coordinated turns.

In addition to the basic Condor program, we got an add-on pack of gliders that includes a PW5. The basic Condor comes with scenery for Germany. I also found a scenery file for Colorado, but none for California. One of our club members is working on building one.

I made up a notebook with simple instructions for getting started with Condor, some next steps for more advanced students, and the Condor manual. Soon we'll demonstrate it to all student pilots.

We believe we are one of the first clubs in the U.S. to provide a dedicated soaring simulation station on site at our gliderport. We think it'll be a great benefit for students who may not want to invest in the hardware and software on their own. We're hoping our instructors will work simulation practice into the training curriculum.

I'd be interested in comments from other clubs who may have experience with the use of simulation in their flight training.

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