As you can see, there are many cost-effective resources available to sport-pilot students who have access to a computer. And you don’t have to be a computer wizard to use them. Installation of the flight-control hardware is easier than it used to be, especially if it uses USB ports and your PC has them. It’s really “plug and play.” Soon you’ll be ready to take your home plane up and practice flying.
What can you practice? You name it. You can use flight simulation software and hardware to practice …
- Standard takeoffs and landings.
- Short-field takeoffs and landings.
- Soft-field takeoffs and landings.
- Coordinated turns.
- Straight-and-level flight.
- Shallow and medium turns.
These are the maneuvers you’ll be tested on during your FAA practical test so you might as well begin practicing them now at home. If you have yoke/joystick and rudder controls you’ll get some practice on the process and its steps without having to rent an aircraft. Of course, flying at home and flying a real aircraft are going to be different, but you will gain some skills that are easy to adjust once you get to fly a real aircraft.
As much as possible, you practice at home on an aircraft that has the approximate characteristics of the one in which you really practice, your trainer aircraft. Flight-simulator programs typically give you a choice of aircraft so you can fly in a Boeing 727 commercial jet, a Ford Tri-Motor of the 1930s, or even the first airplane of 100 years ago, the Wright Flyer. Don’t train on these aircraft. Instead, select a simple tri-gear or taildragger aircraft that approximates your real-world trainer aircraft. If you can’t find one that’s relatively close, do an online search for plane configuration files that are similar.
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For example, you can virtually fly a Zenair Zodiac XL, a two-place kit light-sport aircraft, by downloading and installing files from them. If you’re flying a taildragger trainer, consider the Piper J3 Cub that comes with Microsoft Flight Simulator. As light-sport aircraft become increasingly popular you’ll see additional models available for virtual flying. Also make sure that if your trainer has a stick rather than a yoke for control that your flight-sim hardware includes a joystick.
Utilize all of your flight simulation program. Some programs offer additional flying resources including flight lessons. Microsoft Flight Simulator, for example, contains a flying school taught by Rod Machado for student, private, instrument, commercial, and airline transport pilots. That’s more than you need to know, but it will give you a taste of what it takes to upgrade your certificate—and you’ll have fun. What you will learn in these courses will not contradict what your instructor is teaching, but supplement it. In fact, it might help you think of good questions to ask your instructor during the next lesson; and good questions make good pilots.
"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide