A flight sim is a device that synthetically recreates various aspects of the flight environment, and is used in areas such as pilot training. This device could also be used to simulate how planes react to application of controls and external factors such as precipitation, air density, wind and turbulence. Various types of hardware can be used to model realism and detail. These range from PC based aircraft to complex cockpit simulators.
The devices can be traced right to the pre-WWI era, although true simulation was achieved in the late 1920s. Devices used in this era basically consisted of a model cockpit with all the normal controls. This was then mounted on a motion platform. This gave trainees clues as to the real angular motion of the plane in pitch, yaw and roll. Use of computers in simulation began in the 60s, and had been universally accepted within a couple of decades.
Originally, specialist high end computers were used. As the power of the PC increased however, arrays of high end computers started being used in these devices. The simulators also underwent several evolutions, and modern versions now have wide fields of view due to the use of projectors that are mounted on top of the replica cockpit.
Simulators are also used to train other aircraft personnel on maintenance. They are also used in the research, modelling, design and development of aircraft. Modern simulation employs an array of devices; there are part-task trainers that cover one or more aircraft systems and others with comprehensive systems and aerodynamic modeling.
Most pilot training institutions use low cost devices that lack complex controls and planes to provide basic training to the aspiring pilots. As they gain some skill, their training shifts focus to instrument flying and managing cockpit controls and resources. More training is now conducted in simulating devices. For aircraft specific training, more advanced simulators are used to train pilots to handle the commercial planes that they will eventually fly. Commercial pilots and flight engineers also use the devices in their recurrent training.
Simulation training has many benefits. Since it allows exercise of complex drills in a virtual environment, trainees are able to learn maneuvers that may be impractical or even dangerous in the real world. Also, there is no risk or system or instrument failure which could be dangerous in a real aircraft.
Instructors are also able to provide more training tasks to their students in a short duration of time, which may be impossible in an aircraft.For instance, conducting multiple approaches to controls and instruments in an actual aircraft may require one to spend some time re-adjusting the plane. With a simulator, the instructor is able to do this immediately and embark on the next approach.
A flight sim also has an economic advantage when compared to training in a real plane. The operating costs of simulators are significantly lower than those incurred in fueling and maintaining an actual plane. For some large transport planes, the costs of maintenance are colossal, therefore making simulation preferable.