Since the dawn of man, flying has been a dream, and now we can do it and do it well. For many people all over the world, becoming a pilot is a dream career but one that is difficult and sees 80% of trainees drop out while many face the expensive barrier to entry. There are also other factors such as medical conditions like epilepsy that can prevent someone from obtaining a pilot’s license, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to fly.
Modern technology is now so advanced that once expensive simulator software and components are easily affordable and this has become a niche industry in itself. Short of obtaining an aviation management degree, the closest most of us will get to pilots and aircraft is with the use of a simulator on a computer and there are people who have actually built their own cockpits using real aircraft components and compatible devices.
While you may not be looking to build a cockpit in your basement, you can learn to fly with the following technologies:
- PC Flight Simulator
- VR Systems
- Flight Training Simulator
PC flight simulators have actually been around for almost as long as the personal computer itself while current VR technology brings flight simulation to a whole new level and if you want a realistic experience then you could book some time in an actual replica training simulator used by real pilots.
PC Flight Simulator
When you think of PC flight simulators you will undoubtedly think of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Launched in 1982 by Bill Gates at Microsoft, Flight Simulator 1.0 was a remarkable feat of computer engineering and while it looks terrible by today’s standards, it was exceptional for the time. However, most people aren’t aware of the history of MS Flight Sim and that software company SubLogic released the first flight simulator for the Apple II in 1980. This was then licensed to Microsoft for use with IBM’s CGA graphics chips and was rebranded as Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Since then, Microsoft Flight Simulator has become the number one consumer choice of flight simulation software because of its extreme realism, compatibility with real-life components, and wide selection of aircraft with realistic physics, weather, and almost every airport in the world available. However, due to the realism that the simulator affords, in order to get the best from it, you will need a high-end PC capable of running it properly but it will also be available on Xbox Series X this summer.
That being said, MS Flight Sim isn’t the only flight simulator available, X-Plane is one of the best-selling simulators available with physics and an aircraft selection on par with MS Flight Sim with more and more capabilities through add-ons. Both of these support the use of flight yokes, pedals, and instrument panels that can make your learning experience far more realistic.
One of the coolest inventions of the past 10 years is undoubtedly VR as we know it today. While virtual reality has been around in various forms for decades, it is the modern VR headset that provides the most realistic experience so far. The Oculus Rift, developed by Palmer Luckey in 2012, utilized mobile phone technology in order to track movement which was one of the biggest challenges facing VR development.
Today, many VR headsets have sprung up including PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and improved Oculus devices now owned by Facebook. The immersion and sense of depth, surroundings, and realistic graphics make modern VR headsets an amazing choice for learning to fly using a flight simulator.
The great news is that the best flight simulators including the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane are compatible with modern VR headsets. The use of VR for flying feels like a natural home for the technology and because of the depth perception offered by VR you actually feel it when you bank, ascend or descend rapidly which makes VR a far superior method of flight training over 2D screen-based interaction.
Flight Training Simulator
If you are looking to take flight training to the next level then you can’t really beat a purpose-built flight training simulator. These multi-million-dollar devices from companies like AXIS are made for training real pilots as they learn how to fly the most advanced aircraft in the world such as the Boeing 747, the Airbus A380, and the F-22 fighter jet. However, unless you actually are Bill Gates, you aren’t going to be able to just have one of these at home.
A flight training simulator costs tens of millions since it is designed to be the most realistic and accurate representation of a plane cockpit possible without leaving the ground. As such, they not only come with bespoke software for flying but a full-scale and fully working cockpit of the aircraft they are used for training with. Additionally, they utilize hydraulic systems for simulating banks, pitches, and yaws.
The good news is that there are companies who have purchased these machines privately for the purpose of allowing anyone to use them and can cost relatively little to reasonably expensive depending on the operator. Companies such as Virgin also provide gift certificates for flight simulation and they usually come with 30 minutes to 1 hour flight time but these provide the most realistic experience possible.