Will my sim experience help on my private license

I fly MS FS since circa 1995 and I believe I have over 500hrs on all versions of the sim, and just in the MSFS 2020 over 140 hrs. Now, at 60 yrs old I decided to attend an online private pilot course training lessons. My question is, will this flying hours in the sim help in any degree on my Private Pilot License course, and flying on a real Cessna 152 or 172? Need 40 flying hrs to get the license. The only area I didn’t give much attention is radio com

I think it all depends on how realistically you treated flying in the sim. I’ll speak specifically about GA.
There is a potential to learn some seriously bad habits in sims. I was landing on my second or third flight and only had one bad landing during my whole 43 hours before getting my license. That was a short-field, what a thump! My instructor said “it wasn’t too bad” but I still don’t think he could have been serious.

Radio is one area that can trip you up. But the common problem with sim flyers that I’ve heard and that did apply to me, is that they spend a lot of time glancing at cockpit instruments to maintain level flight instead of keeping eyes outside. Especially if you are a sim flyer that likes doing a lot of IFR.

Spotting other GA aircraft can also be a problem, many have basic lights so they often aren’t easy to spot during the day. Not to mention aircraft that don’t even have a radio (or use wrong frequencies) so you have no hint they are event there. Another aircraft heading right at you can look like a spec of dirt on the windshield and if you wait until you can see for sure that it is another aircraft it might be already too late. Most sim related issues are super easy to fix but I found keeping my eyes outside more the hardest bit to fix.

For me the key is to think of each flight as a “real” flight. No slacking! You will probably find flying much more interesting and challenging than when you were only a “sim” pilot. Especially if your trainer doesn’t have autopilot or even GPS. I think most will have GPS these days though an instructor may turn it off. A 90 minute flight using accurate manual flying and paper maps is pretty tiring if the air is bumpy as it often is here. For me anyway. But tons of fun.


It depends on how intentionally you use the sim. If you joyride around and don’t understand the regulations and how things are really done, you may not do too well. If you make a habit of using checklists, understanding systems and regulations, practicing the traffic pattern, talking on the radio on VATSIM or similar services, then simming may help you get a leg up vs somebody with no experience.

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Will this sim teach you how to fly?

The quick answer is NO.

However, what it will do, is help you to learn procedures and enable to you practice, deadreckoning, IFR flight, and emergency procedures.

The issue with learning how to fly, is there is no real haptic feedback. So you cannot “feel” how the aircraft is actually handling. Additionally, yokes and joy-sticks won’t give the proper responce…. Where yokes and sticks return to a central zero point, that is not the case IRL, where you have to trim the aircraft; IRL the yoke would not return to a “zero-point”. this is just one example, I’m not a RL pilot, but I have done a lot of research and study. Hope that helps.

Good luck on your studies, wish I had the time and money to get my PPL. :slight_smile:

The above posts lay it out well. You get out of it what you put in to it - the more realistic you fly in the sim, the more realistic it can be. When transferring to a real plane, it’s going to be different, but you can still have a good idea of flows, concepts, etc. from the sim. There are limitations, of course; I always talk about the three areas that the sim absolutely cannot replicate:

  1. Kinesthetic feel - the seat of your pants feeling of flight. This is especially true as it applies to changes in acceleration in any vector. IRL you can feel it if you start yawing, if you go from straight and level into a climb, roll into a bank, etc, and make instantaneous corrections (supplemented by your vision, of course). Of course, the sim goes too far in the other direction as you also lose the illusions and errors that real world senses can induce, such as in night or IFR flying.

  2. Control pressure - how the controls feel and behave on the real aircraft. Here I’m speaking in general terms like how deflecting a control induces tactile feedback against your movement, and how increased/decreased airflow changes the feel (slow flight, stalls, even increasing power for takeoff).

However, I find that the control feel for any specific aircraft (as in, does a sim 172 feel like a RW 172?) doesn’t matter. A lot of people talk about muscle memory and how there can be negative transfer going from a sim yoke to the real aircraft. Treat the sim (and perhaps each aircraft within) as its own aircraft in that regard.

I fly several different types of aircraft IRL and they have wildly different control feel. They do not negatively affect my ability to fly the other well. The only time the specific control feel issue might come into play is when learning a new aircraft, or if you are a student pilot and you’re dealing with the 9,000 other things that student pilots deal with. Otherwise, the sim is just another aircraft to be treated as its own thing.

  1. Risk - nothing you do right or wrong has any real consequence, no matter how realistic you’re trying to be. This is probably the biggest opportunity for relaxed, bad habits (and trust me, I do this often enough in the sim).

As far as upping the realism, the best things you can do are:

  • Get some sort of head/eye tracking device to improve your spatial perception and help get your head out of the instruments
  • Get a decent yoke/quadrant/pedal system
  • Learn and use realistic ATC (like VATSIM, etc)

Lastly, what people who want to get realism out of the sim could use most of all is feedback. There are hundreds, if not thousands of elements that go into successful real-world flying, from basic physics to systems knowledge, from weather to procedures, rules and regulations. The problem is most people who haven’t flown real-world don’t know what they don’t know. The bad habits you learn in the sim that can be done correctly, should be. But if you don’t have the training and experience, without someone instructing in the sim, there’s not a lot of hope in correcting them.

So, if nothing else, listen to your instructor, go into your lessons with an open mind, willing to learn (and unlearn). And don’t be surprised when you get your knuckles rapped for having your head in the instruments too much :upside_down_face:.

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To add, I flew sims for years before I got my licenses, so every bit of advice above is from real-world experience plus observations of others since then. That said, the sim absolutely helped with understanding basic concepts, cause-and-effect relationships, spatial awareness, task management, and most of all, navigation. In other areas, I understood (and still understand) there’s always more to learn, so I had to go blank-slate and just learn it.

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