Christian's Story - Private Pilot and Flight Sim User

Listen to the full audio interview below.

At Aviatek, we love to connect with our customers and their unique love for flying and avionics. We reached out to one of our clients Christian, who is a private pilot and medical professional in Germany, to tell us about his story. We were delighted to interview him for quite a long time, he has a lot to share! Alright, let's launch into it.

How Did You Get Started?

I'm 45 years old now, and I've never worked as a pilot. I was thinking of becoming a pilot at around 18 or 19 years old. After finishing school, I talked to my father who was already flying and is a medical doctor, too. He told me both professions (pilot and medical doctor) are great careers to have fun and earn a good life with both of them. He said if you decide to become a doctor there will be always work for you and you can help people. If you're lucky enough, you can own enough money to afford flying as a hobby instead of becoming a professional pilot and ending up in a situation where you could lose your passion because it’s a part of your everyday career or routine.

That was kind of a reason why I also decided to continue doing flying as a hobby and not to make it professional. I was happy enough in the world of aviation because my father was always flying and he kind of grew me up in his airplane. He started to fly with the Piper Turbo Arrow IV that was a single-engine aircraft, and then after a few years he bought a Seneca III, which was very nice, but it was too big for me to start flying with it. He also owned a Scheibe Falke SF25, which is a German motor-glider so you can fly with an engine, or you can stop it and just fly like a regular glider. 

My father took me out all the time. We spend hours and hours together during the weekend, and it was wonderful. I didn't really recognize this in the beginning because I was too young when I was eight or nine years old. At that age, I was kind of afraid of flying, but since I was 14 years old he taught me how to do it. There was quite a click and I was addicted of course to aviation. So I learned it from him and he told me all he could. At 16 years old I did my first solo flight and, after finishing school at 18, I had to do one year of military service. During that time I was visiting the flying school to get my pilot license because you have to do theoretical lessons and practical education. I was 19 years old when receiving my official pilot license. And then I was flying a lot of time during my education and medical studies. 

For the first three years, I was living very far away from the airfield where my father has located his motor glider. Three years later though, I changed my medical school, and I was very close. And so all the time when I had no lessons, or I had time on the weekends, I just had to buy some petrol and could fly. I could fly as long and as much as I wanted because I was lucky enough to have a father who supported me in flying. That was big luck, of course, and flying with him together and flying with some friends from my flying school was a wonderful time. I went to flying school with another person who was an aviation traffic controller, in the military. He did it as a hobby to fly an airplane, too. He was very educated in navigation and all that radio work, of course. So, we flew a lot of hours together to share the expenses and to have more fun together in the airplane. That was a good education for me too and practice after I already got my license. 

During my university time, I flew over 500 hours, which were many hours at that time. After my medical boards, I started my work in the hospital, after med school, you're going to do specialty training. This is very time-consuming too, all the night shifts and you have to work during the weekends too. You have maybe one weekend a month that you are not working. And so in these five years, I didn't have so much time to fly. I decided to get the instrument rating. I did my license in around 40 hours, but it took me, I think, three years to do it. This was because I was doing it along with my hospital work because I did it next to my profession and not as an education to become a pilot. In 2007, so 13 years ago I got my instrument rating. 

In Germany, you have to do a check flight for your single-engine license, for the single-engine instrument rating, and then I did the multi-engine and the multi-engine instrument rating, and you have to do check-flights for all of them. But if you do a check for the multi-engine instrument rating, it counts for all other parts.

We are living close to Munich, and we do not have many airfields here, so it was kind of difficult for me to keep up with all my licenses because you have to be current in your routine and to do all the check flights, as well as flying 12 hours a year. Having a family with two little kids, working on my private practice, and working so much for it, took more time over a few years. Although, I never wanted to quit flying, because it's such a big passion.

How Did You Learn About Flight SIM?

I always had a conflict with time to fly and then it turned out to become much easier because, five years ago I just landed with my father on a small airfield, close to our place where I'm living here. A technician from my work was having a coffee at this airfield with her father and I never met him. She introduced me to her father and it turned out that he is kind of informed and he knew much about aviation without flying himself in real life. And that was Peter. I asked him, how do you know so many things about aviation if you don't fly? And then he told me that in former years he did some glider flying lessons and he was building his own flight simulation. And of course, I was kind of interested in it. He said, yeah, come visit me, and I will show you my flight simulator.

I said, yeah, wonderful. It's a good idea. So, at that time I was just renovating our house, and with the little children, and I never had time with my work because I became self-employed. So it took me five years to visit him. And after five years I told his daughter, I wanted to call him and I just picked up my phone and called his number. And then his wife picked up the phone. I never saw her before. And then I said, yeah, this is Christian you don't know me, but...., and then she started to laugh a lot and said, oh yes, I surely know who you are. So let me get my husband and he would love to talk to you. So it took me just one day after this telephone conversation and I visited him. Since then I was addicted another time, not to aviation alone, but also to flight simulation. The time I stepped into his cellar and saw his self-built cockpit of a Citation Mustang, I was completely overwhelmed by his precision and what he did and that he could do a rebuild of the cockpit. I knew the flight simulator from Microsoft, and I also knew X-Plane, but I never used it, because it was too... hmm, let´s say I was not interested in flying by clicking a mouse on a screen. 

I was flying since I was a teenager but discovered flight SIM late in my aviation journey, and quickly realized how beneficial it was. It just took me one flight with this simulator to see what benefits flight simulation has and how real it is.

The point is that you can touch the buttons and the switches you use and you can train your muscle memory. And that's what I saw. There's another point here. I wanted to mention because at the time I was educated in flying with the instruments, the planes were not having the G1000 devices. So we had the old school, six-pack like everything was conventional. And then the Garmin, 430 and 530 came out; these two were a big step into more safety because you had a visualization of your flying track. But by the time I was trained, we did not have all these things. So after the first cockpits with the G1000 came up, I was kind of impressed, but it was not very easy for me to know how to use it because you had so many menus and different pages.

A bit later some G1000 PC trainers came up. So you could train how to use it, which button is for which function, and how to get back to the previous page and you know, not to get lost in the menu and stuff like that. But again, it was kind of annoying to click all the buttons with the mouse and it just makes it no fun. And, of course, it was not connected to a flight simulator like X-Plane. So you could just do some clicks on the screen, but it was not like having a flight, like sitting in the plane, putting your flight plan into the device, starting a conversation with a controller and, you know, finding your way on the taxiways to a departure runway and all that stuff which makes you much busier in the plane in comparison to just using one device and doing nothing more.

That's when I recognized the potential for a flight simulator with your own hardware. That's why Peter and I started to build my own. Thanks to all Peter's help, now I'm happy enough to have it. I don´t want to live without it. My first check flight in real life with a G1000 on board, I would say, was two years ago. I did all my previous check flights with the plane of my father because it was a twin-engine and IFR licensed but only with the older six-pack. After he sold it, I turned to planes with the G1000 and to do my check flights with that. My most recent IFR check flight was the easiest I've ever done. I knew exactly what to do because I already had 80 or 85 hours of flying time with the flight simulator hardware.

One of the benefits of the simulator is that I can train situations, I usually would not fly into. I usually avoided flying alone to international airports with much traffic, or for example, flying into bad weather conditions and all that stuff. Of course, I can fly whenever I want to, but for example, in Germany, all the smaller airfields are closed at the latest after 10 p.m. So you can't fly at night easily. I can perform three approaches in an hour and not one approach in three hours. What usually is in real life, you need much more time. So I can concentrate on my training and in a much shorter time. 

How Important are Realistic SIM's For You?

It's really important in terms of getting used to buttons and wheels and controllers you're usually using in your plan. That's why in my setting, I mixed the cockpit a little bit because usually the TBM 900 has other G1000 parts than a regular assessment. So the autopilot, for example, is a little bit different. The G1000 suite I ordered from you (Aviatek) is the Cessna version with the autopilot on the G1000 screens. I'm not having an extra autopilot and an external keyboard because usually, I'm flying now the Cessna 206. I really appreciate and really love the feeling of the buttons and the wheels. In terms of reducing your workload, it's great when you know exactly what you need to do and you know that the wheel for the pressure adds the standard QNH for example if you push it. I think it has this triangle form, in comparison to the wheel for changing the altitude and the heading. These differences are not taken into account in other devices I've seen so far. 

How Often Do You Practice?

I fly twice a week, for example, for let's say one or two hours, which is recommended for pilots. So, if you are interested in having a routine to fly instrument, under instrument conditions, I think one or two hours a week is absolutely recommended. If you just want to fly visually without conditions, and you don't have to do it, but I think, if you want to fly just under visual conditions, you don't need to train all these, G1000 IFR procedures. There's another reason why I bought the force feedback yoke. If you want to fly without any optical reference, you have to concentrate on your artificial horizon. Then that's kind of training too. Also having stronger winds, bad weather and at the same time you'll want to navigate because of course, you can use the autopilot all the time, but it's kind of realistic that it fails and you don't have an autopilot and then you have to be able to fly it by hand also. Only for this, you can use the simulator very well to train you. You keep the abilities to perform the basic flying routine, next to, navigating on your G1000, talking to the controller, and stuff like that. So one or two hours a week is absolutely good. That's the other advantage of this flight simulator, like in my case, for example, if you have to look out for your money, also, you can train much more hours, with less money. 

How Does Flight SIM Benefit You Financially?

At least after one year, you break even. If I think of 80 hours I have training in my simulator, I would never be able to afford it in real life these days. In addition, there's another reason why I like flying with flight SIMs very much because it's much better for the environment. I mean, you don't burn fuel. Of course, you use some electricity, but it's not comparable to the effort of an airplane. Years ago I was just flying to train my IFR approaches, and I was flying with my father just to be in a plane without any reason except for training. I mean, it's necessary, of course, but today I can do my training and I can go fly in real life having a destination and a goal, and let's say some kind of benefit because I can fly and not take the car too. I can reduce my environmental pollution.

If you want to have 80 hours of flying time, you would need much more time being out of your home because, you have to get the plane from the hanger, you have to do the reservation and you have to clean the airplane afterward. So you spend more time getting up in the air and running it in comparison to walking to your PC and firing it up. So the training is much more efficient for many different reasons. I got so much routine using my G1000 and so much more routine in working with the G1000 next to my other workload in the plane that it would have taken much more hours in real life to learn all that.

Unique Connection Between Aviation & Medical Fields

There's maybe just one more thing I want to mention if it's okay for you. There are some points with aviation everyday life and the everyday life of a medical doctor in special situations, that are very close to each other. Aviation is full of routines. If there's a special combination of some situations, it can get serious and unsafe in seconds, and you have to have rules and routine to get out of the situation. You always have to have a plan B, to have an idea, what can you do if this is not working? And if you have this, you can get into situations you didn't think of and you have to be calm enough and professional enough to have a way to get out of it, to stay safe. That's exactly the same in the medical world. So you can think of so many things and you can have a plan. For example, I did neurosurgery before, so in the operating room, you have a situation and you think, okay, I have to do this and this and this. And then by chance, something happens and you are completely lost in a second. And then you have to find a way to save the life of this patient. So you can't hit any stop button, like for example, the simulator, or you can pause it, but not in real life of aviation and not in an operating room. I am now a radiologist and I was working in the emergency room. So we have repeated examinations of car accidents and motorcycle accidents. So everything has to be very quick and you have to be focused on your work. Aviation is much better in having checklists, and routine, and working and coping with the workload, and in medicine, we also have ways to do it. That's why I'm interested in aviation and IFR routines too because I learned so many things I can use in my everyday life as a doctor. In my case, I can learn things using the flight simulator that I can use in my work too. Of course, this is another point why I like to spend my time using flight simulation.

How Flight Simulators Can Help Pilots