A Cessna Grand Caravan over Quito in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Flight Lessons

Mike Catalfamo
Mike Catalfamo


Train with Me

If you have recently purchased the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (FS2020) and you’re overwhelmed by where to start, don’t worry – you’re not alone. I want to help you understand some of the resources available for learning how to fly with FS2020.

FS2020 Built-In Flight Lessons

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offers eight built-in flying lessons, on the following topics:

  1. Basic controls & cameras: Familiarize yourself with flight environment
  2. Attitudes & instruments: The fundamentals of flight management
  3. Takeoff & level flight: Getting airborne then staying true
  4. Landing: Techniques for a successful touchdown
  5. Traffic pattern: Maneuver safely around busy airfields
  6. First solo flight: Tackle a traffic pattern on your own
  7. Navigation: Follow a flight plan from point A to point B
  8. First solo navigation: Fly from A to B entirely on your own

The Cessna 152 is an excellent choice of training aircraft, because of its easy flying characteristics and simple panel. The GPS and glass cockpit displays in other aircraft can be distracting to new students. They are not necessary to learn the fundamentals.

The choice of Sedona airport (KSEZ) as the training area certainly offers a stunning scenery. However, the tabletop configuration of the airport makes it a bit more difficult to properly judge the traffic pattern and height above the runway.

The built-in flight instructor is friendly and encouraging. However, I found that the provided training has many shortcomings:

  • The instructions are very simplistic and seem largely “open loop”. She does not react enough to your control inputs with feedback – and many times, she does not react at all. I tried stalling several times on final approach, with absolutely no word from the instructor.
  • Do not expect to get any detailed feedback about how and why you should do what the instructor is saying.
  • There are some very basic graphical features used to explain concepts (such as the landmark pointers shown below, and highlight markings on the instruments). But generally speaking, the use of graphics to explain concepts is insufficient, in my opinion.

I could see brand new users becoming quite frustrated and confused at how to properly completely each lesson. During my first solo, I flew several standard traffic patterns, but just after touchdown at the 1000 foot markers, I was told, “Hmm, you weren’t really supposed to land there” and the scenario reset. I was not given any feedback about what I might have done wrong – which could be very frustrating!

The first couple of lessons are a good way to learn the basic controls and keyboard commands in FS2020, as well as some basic flying techniques. Beyond that, however, I do not think that the lessons in FS2020 alone will be of much use to new users who want to understand what they’re doing, refine their techniques, and progress onto more advanced aircraft.

Free Resources

If you would like to learn the theory associated with each of the topics in these lessons, the FAA offers free books which are a great resource.

One-On-One Remote Coaching

If you’re ready to move beyond the default flight lessons in MSFS2020, that’s where I can help.

Imagine having a real-life flight instructor by your side as you fly your simulator. I can draw directly on your screen to explain various concepts, and give you customized feedback and exercises tailored specifically to you. I’ll be available available to answer your questions during our sessions and by email. I am your personal resource and coach as you work toward your aviation goals.

If you have ever thought about getting your private pilot certificate or instrument rating, but if you find the cost or other circumstances to be prohibitive, this is your chance.

The content of the coaching is completely customized to fit your goals and budget, and I work with clients across the spectrum. Some have just started flying flight sim, and they want help so they can more quickly start operating advanced aircraft like the 737 or being able to use air traffic control on online networks like VATSIM.

Others want to follow a traditional private pilot syllabus starting in a Cessna, treating the whole experience as if they’re a student pilot in the real-world, or learn specific goals like using VORs or the autopilot.

Others are actually real-world pilots who want to make the most of their simulator practice sessions, to prepare for their real lessons/checkrides, to maintain proficiency, etc.

For more information, check out my remote flight sim coaching page.

For Real-World Students

You might be wondering if FS2020 is the best choice to use for real-world student pilots trying to get an edge on their flight training, or if you should use X-Plane instead.

While I’m happy to train students using any simulator platform, FS2020 is lacking in several areas that are quite useful from a training perspective.

For example, it’s much more difficult to quickly reposition the aircraft (which is helpful so we can efficiently repeat scenarios). There is no instant replay, no options for detailed failure, and no aerodynamic visualizations.

For these reasons, X-Plane 11 remains my first choice for providing the most efficient and effective training to my clients. However, with its incredible visual effects, FS2020 does have unique advantages for certain training scenarios (such as navigation) that should not be overlooked.

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