Learning a Study Level Aircraft

This will serve as the introduction and first of a multi-part blog tutorial series for how I learn and fly sim aircraft that might be classified as the more complex, study-level, payware aircraft types.  While some will argue that products developed by QualityWings, CaptainSim, Carenado, Aerosoft (just to name off a few) aren’t in the same category or classification as the likes of PMDG, A2A or FSLabs.  While I agree partially with this argument, there is still a learning process with these different aircraft models and more or less the same method I use can be applied to each of them.

The Fine Print

I’m sharing the methods I use to learn and fly study level aircraft.  This series of tutorials are not designed to be the end-all, be-all of methods to accomplish this task.  These are simply the methods which have worked well for me over the years.  Actually, the process has become a lot easier since the dawn of YouTube and Google.  If you have different methods that work, great.  Likewise, if you prefer to first start by studying the Boeing manual…I take my hat off to you.  However, many of us just don’t have the time, nor the desire to go to the full depths of understanding when it comes to “when I flip this switch in the cockpit, this is what is happening behind the scenes with all the complex theory behind it” type scenario.  As I have stated many times…I have no desire to learn how to fly a plane in real life.  But I get a lot of stress relieving satisfaction from the time I spend in flight sim and the other simulation based platforms I enjoy.  There’s nothing wrong with any method.  Let’s get on with this first tutorial.

The New Aircraft

So PMDG, FSLabs, QualityWings etc. have released their latest and greatest version of whatever real world airplane they’ve been spending years developing.  This new virtual aircraft is the closest thing us flight simmers can experience to the real thing short of spending time in a full-size simulator or becoming a real-world airline pilot.  Almost every button, switch, dial in the cockpit has been programmed to simulate the same real-world operation we’d find on the real flight deck.  It’s truly a thing of beauty…but, just like in the real world…a series of steps must be carried out and in most cases these steps must be followed in a specific order before we’ll ever get the aircraft into the skies.

I don’t know about you, but when I first purchase, download and install the latest and greatest from my favorite developers the first thing I really want to do is fly the darn airplane.  While I absolutely love flying on the VATSIM network, I’ll never fly a brand new aircraft until such time as I’ve learned more about the aircraft and can perform all the necessary functions as not to embarrass myself on the network or more importantly, not cause any disruption or dissatisfaction with other pilots.

I’ll be open and honest, in the beginning for each new aircraft I’m just concerned with the minimum effort needed to get the aircraft in a state where I can fly it, control it and land it.  Once I can do this….I then proceed with diving a little deeper and deeper into the aircraft.  As time goes by, I’m following more of the “checklist flows” for how things are done.  Once I reach this point, this is when I’m willing to use the new aircraft on the VATSIM network.

Over the course of the next few written tutorials, I’ll share the steps I follow to learn these new aircraft and to develop a proficiency at flying them well enough to fly online.  As I’ve stated in the past, I’ve been flying on VATSIM from the very beginning.  I have over 18 years of online experience, I’ve never been banned, I’ve never been given a warning.  I take great pride in always being professional and always following the rules.

But how do I begin the learning process?

Read the Manual

Yes…it starts with reading the manual.  I’m sure you’re probably thinking to yourself, surely (don’t call me Shirley) Jerry has figured out a better process to all this versus reading the manual.  Well…all I can say is the manual generally has a lot of valuable information that will assist you in the process of learning your new aircraft.  But even I’ll admit that a lot of the information contained in these manuals provide more of the theory behind how things function versus the how do I do this and why should I do this procedure.  But at the very least….know where the manual is located (where it’s been installed on your PC) and familiarize yourself with it.  It’ll make for great reading material during the cruise phase of your first flight.

Tutorial Flight

Most complex, payware aircraft will include a tutorial flight.  As I begin laying out the framework of this article (early July timeframe), I’m in the process of learning the FS Labs Airbus A320 (and the A319).  I’m relatively new to the FSLabs Airbus and you can read more about my decision to purchase this add-on here.  The tutorial flight for the A320 is a short flight from Vienna, Austria to Copenhagen, Denmark.  It’s written in a step-by-step fashion and can very easily be followed.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always learned by doing.  I can sit in a classroom listening to someone explain something until my eyes glaze over and not learn a thing.  Or I can actually roll up my sleeves and follow along by actually doing the same thing the person is talking about and learn everything I need to know.  Well, learning how to fly is the same thing for me.  The FS Labs tutorial flight is one of the best documented processes I’ve seen and after flying this flight twice, I was ready to fly to other destinations using the processes documented in the tutorial.

YouTube is your Friend

The first complex payware aircraft I purchased was the Level-D 767.  This aircraft came out before YouTube was born and I must admit that the learning curve for the 767 (for me) was much steeper than any other aircraft since the dawn of YouTube.  Prior to the 767, I was a CTRL-E kind of guy.  So trying to follow along in the manual (and I can’t remember if there was a tutorial) was much like trying to fly to the moon.  But now days, within days (sometimes hours) of an aircraft release, you’ll find really detailed videos from very talented individuals on full, immersive flights.

Some YouTube content creators will go over the flow based on the provided checklists and others will hit the highlights of just what’s needed to power up the aircraft and fly it.  As I previously mentioned, I’m more inclined to initially take the path of least resistance in the beginning.  But there are a few real world airline pilots who also record YouTube videos and stream on Twitch while flying in P3D.  I thoroughly enjoy watching their content, especially once I’ve somewhat mastered the basics and it helps me to then go back and fill in some of the areas I’ve either missed or perhaps just don’t understand why a process is done.

Checklist Flows

Once you’ve completed the tutorial flight(s) and have a better understanding of your new aircraft.  Future flights are easier and setup a lot faster when using a checklist.  Again, most of the developers will include a checklist within the documentation of the aircraft.  However, in some cases these checklists when used without any additional aids may not be enough to get you over the learning curve.  This is where my modified checklists come into play.

Modified Checklists

Generally after a few tutorial flights, then a few flights loosely based on the tutorial flight, I begin creating my own checklist flow.  I do this for a few reasons.  One, in some instances there are steps on the official checklist that just don’t provide enough details as to the steps I need to follow.  For example, in the FSLabs A320 checklist provided in the documents, the first checklist item in the Before Start section is “Cockpit Preparation”.  What does all this entail I ask?  To a veteran airline captain or first officer, they know all the finer details behind all that goes into this important checklist item.  But for me…it’s simply not enough…at least not in the beginning stages.  So I’ve developed a method of creating my own Word document lists which somewhat mirror the actual A320 checklist, but at the same time helps me to remember everything I need to do to ensure the cockpit is fully prepped.   In addition, when I lay out these flows, I try (as best as possible) to follow a flow that works best for me.  Yes, I realize this may deviate from how things are done in the real world.  But if it keeps me from having to bounce all around cockpit then that just saves me a little time.  And honestly, we’re not talking about major differences…just a few shortcuts here and there.  I may consider making an effort to clean these documents up and make them available to anyone interested.

Just to repeat myself

There’s no right or wrong way with these things.  Yes, there are those “hard core” types that actually dress up like a real pilot to enjoy their computer based sim.  But the thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that what we’re simulating…the workload and role of an airline pilot in the real world is carried out by two highly skilled pilots.  Unless you are using an aircraft capable of shared cockpit functionality, you’re really doing all the work typically shared between two pilots.  There are add-ons available for some payware aircraft which simulate a multi-crew experience.  FS2Crew is one that I’m most familiar with.  The add-on is capable of performing various tasks on the flight deck using voice recognition.  I’ve used it in the past on the Level-D 767 and one or two of the PMDG aircraft I own.  While I’m no longer using it, I certainly recommend it if you’

Final Thoughts

The old saying, “Practice Makes Perfect” is certainly a very wise suggestion.  The more you fly your brand new aircraft, the easier it will be to commit all the steps necessary to memory.  But remember, even real world pilots use a checklist for each and every flight so don’t feel bad if you (from time to time) need to reflect back to your checklist.  It’s just all part of the process.  Finally, for the sake of all others (and your own reputation)….spend a little (or a lot) of time flying your new aircraft off-line to familiarize yourself with it fully before contemplating going online with VATSIM, IVAO or the other online networks.

I hope this information helps you.

Until next time…

Happy Learning!


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