With the rapid advances in technology, the landscape of flight training is changing.
One of the biggest shifts?
Online flight training.
In this article, we’ll examine how to use online flight instructors to supplement your real-life flight training – at a fraction of the cost.
- Online flight training sessions occur through video calls and home flight simulators, instead of a traditional classroom or an airport.
- A remote Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) can help you practice basic skills and procedures, learn to talk on the radio, prepare you for your checkride, provide ground school, and debrief your real-life flights.
- Home flight simulators can’t provide the same feel and physical feedback that the real aircraft does, and flight time in a home flight simulator doesn’t count toward training time for your license.
- Remote flight training is extremely cost-effective – each minute of maneuvers practice costs around seven times more in a real aircraft than with a remote CFI using a simulator.
- A home simulator isn’t required to receive ground instruction, communications practice, and debriefing with a remote CFI.
What is an “Online Flight Instructor?”
Flight instruction has always been an in-person affair. The idea of learning to fly remotely is understandably foreign to most pilots.
So, how does it work?
Take a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), a student pilot, their home flight simulator, and a video call with a screen share – and you have a remote training setup.
Instead of meeting in a traditional classroom or an airport, training sessions occur through video calls and home flight simulators.
Time and money saved. Plus, the flexibility to train at any time of day. In any weather. From the comfort of home.
But there are limitations to what a flight instructor can teach remotely. So what can and can’t a CFI teach remotely, and how can a remote flight instructor and home flight simulator supercharge your flight training?
Radio Communication Practice
A significant struggle most student pilots face is learning how to talk on the radio.
Not only are students effectively learning a new language, they can only practice speaking the language in the cockpit while under pressure and learning to fly at the same time.
While ground school helps with the basics (like the phonetic alphabet), it can’t recreate the real environment where a student needs to fly, listen to the radio, and speak when appropriate.
Here’s where a remote CFI can work wonders.
Not only can a remote flight instructor teach radio communication in a ground school format (incorporating ForeFlight EFB charts and LiveATC audio recordings), but they can also turn theory into practice.
A remote CFI can host live, interactive sessions where they can role-play as an Air Traffic Controller – including while you fly your home flight simulator.
But they can take it even further by helping you fly on virtual ATC networks such as VATSIM and PilotEdge.
Virtual ATC networks bring human Air Traffic Controllers into your flight simulator. These controllers use real-life procedures and allow you to practice radio communication, under pressure, in various settings.
When it comes to the radio, that’s as close as you’ll get to the real thing.
Student pilots traditionally undergo ground school in classrooms or via online courses.
But what if you need personalized help understanding a difficult concept?
With tools like Zoom and a home flight simulator, ground school becomes more flexible and interactive.
Discussing the effects of the spiraling slipstream, but the concept just doesn’t quite make sense? Open your simulator, share your screen, and experience the effect first-hand – with your CFI explaining everything.
And this format isn’t bound by geography or rigid schedules. You can receive ground instruction from anywhere, whenever it suits you.
I even had a student that did ground school sessions with me on his hour-long commute to work!
Oral Exam Preparation
The oral exam for your checkride can create a lot of stress.
A remote CFI can leverage their experience to highlight common questions and problem areas, offering targeted guidance.
Along with structured study plans and digital resources, a key component of this preparation is mock oral exams.
During these interactive sessions, your CFI will recreate the exam setting, challenging you with potential questions and providing instant feedback to refine your understanding.
Want an added layer of preparation? Jump into the simulator afterward and fly a mock checkride!
Every flight, be it a training session or a solo flight, is a treasure trove of learning experiences.
Debriefing, the process of reviewing and analyzing your flight, is where the true learning crystallizes.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, your real-life CFI might not have the bandwidth to address all your questions and observations in detail.
Your remote CFI fills this gap.
They can offer an additional layer of debriefing. After each real-life flight, you can connect with your online instructor to discuss your experiences, analyze the flight (including any CloudAhoy and LiveATC recordings you may have), and gain insights on how to improve.
With the benefit of time and dedicated attention, they can offer more in-depth analysis, answer your lingering questions, and provide a fresh perspective on your flight. If you have a simulator, you can practice the maneuvers dozens of times to hone your skills at minimal cost.
This constant feedback loop ensures that you learn from every flight and continually evolve as a pilot.
What Online Flight Training Can’t Replace
Despite the tremendous benefits of online flight training with a remote CFI, it’s important to understand its limitations.
There are certain elements of flight training that a home flight simulator, no matter how sophisticated, simply cannot replicate.
Flight simulators can’t fully emulate the physical feedback associated with controlling a real-life aircraft. This feedback is one of the keys to learning how to land.
Unless you’re willing to invest in a full-motion flight simulator, these physical sensations are absent in home flight training.
This means that your simulator time is best spent focusing on things that do not depend on a seat-of-the-pants feel, such as checklists, procedures, and communication.
Flight Control Feel
Home flight simulators can mimic the layout and functionality of real-world aircraft controls, from yokes, throttles, and pedals to complex cockpit switch panels.
While they won’t feel exactly the same as a real aircraft, the simulator is still excellent for building muscle memory.
Lastly, the time spent in a home flight simulator doesn’t count toward training time for your certification. And while the simulator itself can get close to the real thing, it can’t replace real-life training in the aircraft.
Regulatory bodies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have strict regulations about what qualifies as flight time.
You can buy certified simulators for home use, but they’re significantly more expensive and aren’t worth it for most student pilots.
Some flight schools do have FAA-approved Aviation Training Devices (ATDs) that can count towards training time. Again, the cost to use them may not be worth it.
It’s no secret that becoming a pilot involves a significant investment, both in time and money.
Unless you have all the time and money in the world, you want the most efficient and cost-effective path to your pilot certificate.
A remote CFI, paired with intelligent use of desktop flight simulation, might just be the solution you need.
Let’s crunch some numbers to see why.
Take a standard pre-solo maneuvers flight lesson, involving about 1.5 hours of Hobbs time.
Accounting for all steps, including travel to and from the airport as well as pre-and post-flight activities, this can easily consume over 3 hours of your day.
On the other hand, a similar duration remote coaching session, conducted in the comfort of your home using a flight simulator, starts within minutes of connecting with your CFI on Zoom. You can start the flight directly in the air, in the practice area, ready to begin refining your maneuvers and emergency procedures.
Now, look at the costs. A 1.5-hour real-world flight lesson, considering both instructor and aircraft time, can set you back around $400. The same duration of remote coaching? Just $105.
Considering the overhead involved in a real-world lesson (like taxi and flying to/from the practice area), each minute of maneuver practice costs around seven times more in a real aircraft than with a remote CFI using a simulator.
Of course, there’s no substitute for real in-aircraft flight experience with a good instructor. But given the high costs, it makes sense to utilize your home simulator and remote CFI to prepare for your real-world lessons.
It can directly translate into less time needed in the real aircraft – and a significant amount of money saved as a result.
How to Get Started
Some instructors already have experience helping students in a remote environment. Start by asking yours if they are interested in helping you while you’re at home.
If you’re interested in working with a team of CFIs already specialized in flight simulation and remote teaching, head over to Flight Sim Coach and schedule a free consult (we’re very friendly!).