Flight Simulators: Simulators are classified by a really confusing system—a trail of good intent followed by the FAA that left behind a perplexing cataloguing system.
Primarily, if the simulator has a number, it doesn’t move. If it has a letter, it moves and costs a lot of money. The higher the number, or the lower in the alphabet the letter, the more sophisticated the device. For instance a Level D simulator supersedes a Level A.
The flight training devices (FTDs) — are the ones that don’t move— they are classified Level 1 through Level 7, with 7 being the most sophisticated. If you want to be technically correct, only devices that move use the word simulator. Simulators are classified as Level A through Level D.
Types of Fixed Training Devices
Level 1 FTDs do not really exist, although some old ones are still in use, and no one can define this level. So you might ask what goes into Level 1? All the FTDs that don’t seem to fit into any other levels—devices stuck in no man’s land, like traces. Devices previously approved as Levels 1 to 3 have special privileges to continue in operation.
Level 2 FTDs doesn’t exist, either (except for the previously approved ones), but was the starting point for personal computer-based aviation training devices or PCATDs. They don’t exist by that name anymore.
Level 3 FTDs are no longer approved (but old ones are still in use), because simulators once in that category are considered to be advanced aviation training devices (AATDs). AATD is one of two additional categories. The other is a basic aviation training device (BATD).
The AATD is more sophisticated than a BATD, but neither can be used for circle-to-land maneuvers, a circling approach, or unusual attitudes. Neither was intended for training in visual conditions.
In an AATD, you can log instrument flight experience for currency, 20 hours toward an instrument rating, up to 50 hours toward a commercial rating, 25 hours for your ATP rating, and 2.5 hours for your private pilot certificate. An AATD will often have the same maximum training credits (above) as a Level 6 FTD.
BATDs allow you to log instrument flight experience such as approaches, but you get only 10 hours toward an instrument rating. One still get 2.5 hours toward the private pilot certificate. There’s no credit toward an ATP certificate.
Remember as mentioned earlier, that only simulators move? Well that’s not always true. Some AATDs move i.e. get motion, but not the recognitions that a full flight simulator usually offers (in a full flight simulator, response time of motion, instruments, and visual displays are objectively qualified). AATDs and BATDs are subjectively qualified, meaning that the FAA takes a look and either approves or disapproves the device. Unlike FAA checks of flight training devices and simulators, the engineering reference data is not required to be established.
The FTD classification system is getting simpler to comprehend, now that you know three of the FTD levels are no longer in production.
Level 4 FTDs are part-task trainer. When you get in it, you can expect to see touch-screens that help you pick up procedures for instruments or flight management systems. There would not be any control yoke.
Level 5 FTD represents a “class” of aircraft (meaning single-engine, multiengine, etc.), and also requires a document called a qualification and approval guide that contains FTD design criteria. At this stage, the device is starting to look more like the aircraft you are going to fly. There is a control yoke installed.
Level 6 FTD has to be precise for the aircraft you fly, right down to spatial relations and actual functions. Like all flight training devices and simulators, it must also have a qualification and approval guide, but makes use of expensive aerodynamic data. It flies with more realism.
Level 7 FTD refers to helicopter devices.
Recall how three of the seven FTD levels do not exist?
Well, it’s the same with simulators!
Types of Flight Simulators
Level A simulators barely exists. There are only a dozen or so in the USA. They have less sophisticated visual systems and little data for simulating ground effect. Some of the aircraft still using Level A simulators include the Lockheed JetStar, one of the first business jets.
Level B simulators scarcely exists. There are maybe 12 to 15 in the United States, but Frasca International has delivered one. Level B would give you 80 percent of initial training for a type rating, and 100 percent of recurrency training if you have circle-to-land privileges like in the case of the Frasca’s Caravan simulator for the University of Alaska. Frasca called it a Level B Plus. It has circle-to-land capability that kind of makes it a C. But it’s not.
There are about 230 Level C simulators in the US. There are tighter tolerances on data. The backdrop is better. All instrument currency requirements, including a landing and circle-to-land, can be met in the simulator. More pilots are using these simulators. End result, though, is that the differences between Level C and Level B are subtle.
Finally Level D Simulators. You can do everything in it, including full type ratings for sophisticated airliners. There are between 400 and 430 in America. Daylight scenery is a requirement. (Some AATDs might have daylight scenery, too.) They have better data and tighter performance tolerances.
So which of the devices and simulators can be used for instrument proficiency checks (IPCs) and flight reviews?
The answer to that is Only Level C and D simulators can be used for a full IPC, start to finish. That’s because of an FAA requirement for a landing as part of the IPC (a recent change made by the FAA), and only those two levels are considered realistic enough to give credit for a landing. Other devices and simulators give credit for flight experience, and that includes the approaches, holding, and the navigation portion of the IPC. But you’ll not get credit for a landing unless you’re in a Level C or Level D simulator—or, of course, the real airplane.
As Flight-review regulations do not specifically say a landing is required, you can do a flight review (if the pilot already is current for landing) in a Level 5 FTD or higher, assuming that the device is approved by the local FAA. Remember, Level 5 devices just imitate a class of airplane, not a specific model.
The current system has caused confusion. Some companies put actual Garmin G1000 avionics in FTDs while others only simulate a glass cockpit. Both are legal.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) found that there are more than 30 classifications of FTDs and simulators around the world. An international working group comprising manufacturers, operators, and regulators has worked for many years to set a global standard.