Often I’ve railed against the inability of approved aviation training devices (sims) to mimic the aircraft we fly. If your panel has had any upgrades, you’ll generally not find a sim that comes close. This limits the value of sim training in maintaining proficiency for your aircraft.
So, why not train in your airplane? Training for complex aircraft is inferior in the airplane. In the sim you can trigger countless failures, an engine-driven fuel pump for example, that just can’t be created in the air. So, your instructor simply covers an instrument, or announces, “Oil pressure failure on the left engine.” In reality, those are often slow, subtle failures that can go unnoticed. If the instructor announces it, much of the training value is lost.
Beyond failures you can’t create in the airplane, some failures you avoid in the airplane for safety reasons. If a pilot detects the declining oil pressure before the engine quits, the usual way of handling it is to do a precautionary engine shutdown. (Assume a twin.) Engine-out maneuvering, approaches, and landings are a staple of multi-engine training, but they’re also high-risk—if anything goes wrong, either more failures of any kind or pilot deficiency handling the airplane, some seriously bad things can happen quickly. So, most instructors who offer engine-out training in the air at all, typically do so only at higher altitudes.
Failures that affect an airplane’s ability to stay in the air are conceptually far different when done at altitude from those same failures down low where you’re struggling to avoid terrain and obstacles. So, safely practicing failures of this type in the airplane is often lacking in realism and thus training value. We’re back to the sim where far more failures can be triggered and all can be conducted safely.
In complaining that we can’t replicate most of our panels in certified sims, I’ve offered the compromise of recurrent training in a sim followed up with some hood work in your airplane. Still, that’s a compromise—the ideal solution is to do it all in a sim that closely replicates the aircraft you fly.
Actually, with some (not insignificant) limitations surrounding the latest avionics, you can usually come rather close with available sim components if you build it. (See our series on DIY sims.) But, while the resulting sim can come closer to your aircraft, it won’t be certified and you can’t log the time. Some argue that logging is just a bonus, but the general feeling is that logging your sim training is a requirement.
Why can’t we have certified, custom-built sims? Blame the FAA. Real approved aircraft components are given a TSO or an STC allowing you to install a specific radio, for example, in any aircraft. ATD sims, however, are certified as a whole. So, if you want to put a GTN navigator into a sim that was certified with GNS navigators, you’ve got to start the lengthy certification process from scratch. That’s beyond practical, so we end up with certified sims that are so basic that they’re unrealistic.
Unless that changes, the best I can recommend is recurrent training in a sim focusing on failures, coupled with avionics practice and approaches in your actual airplane.