What is a Flight Simulator?
First of all, sorry to break it to you, but “MSFS 2020” is anything but a Flight Simulator by the legal definition. It does not qualify for any type of pilot logbook, even if you’re working with one of our remote Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs). That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly useful as a training tool. But it’s not certified by the FAA, so you can’t log anything from Microsoft Flight Simulator in your pilot logbook.
Second, the FAA has three categories of ground training devices:
- ATD – Aviation Training Device (Basic – BATD, and Advanced – AATD)
- FTD – Flight Training Device
- FFS – Full Flight Simulator
The FAA definition of a “simulator” is something far beyond what you’ll see in any flight school. FFSs (Full Flight Simulators) are very large devices used by airlines.
An “FTD” is something you might see in the military, in corporate aviation, or in advanced flight training centers.
Part 61 and Part 141 flight schools use BATDs and AATDs. More information on the differences between FFS, FTD, AATD, and BATD is available from the AOPA, RedBird, Aviation Simulation Technology, Volarent, and of course the FAA. These items are certified by the FAA to be realistic and accurate to real-world aircraft, and the time you spend in these ground trainers can be logged in a pilot logbook.
A home simulator (such as MSFS or non-certified X-Plane) is, unfortunately, not allowed to be logged in any pilot logbook.
Can I log flight time in an ATD?
You can log as much ATD time as you like in your logbook*, with or without an instructor. Log it as “ground trainer” time or “ATD” time in your logbook. It can count for instrument currency, too!
*However, While you can log as much as you fly, the FAA limits the amount of ATD time you can use as credit towards certification minimums. This does not mean you can’t log the time, it just means that exceeding those limits won’t count towards the minimum hours required for a certificate or rating.
For instance, a private pilot certificate requires 40 hours of flight minimum, but you can only use a BATD as credit for 2.5 of those hours. So if you log 10 hours, only 2.5 of those will count towards your minimum of 40 hours before you take your check ride. For more info, check 14 CFR Part 61.4(c) or check this link.
How do I log the time in the ATD properly?
- I recommend writing the manufacturer’s name and the type of ATD (for example, “Elite BATD” or “RedBird FMS AATD”) as the aircraft model, and the particular model number (for example, “PI-135 XTS”) as the Tail Number.
- You should also take a picture or keep a copy of the certificate for any ATD that you fly. The flight school should be able to provide you with a copy. Your examiner may ask to see a copy of the certificate. If the ATD has a serial number, it is not required to note the serial number, but feel free to do so if you choose.
- Log your time as ATD Time (often called Ground Trainer Time in logbooks), and log it as DUAL RECEIVED if you’re with an instructor.
- If you’re simulating IMC, then log it as Simulated IMC, and log your holds and the approaches you fly with weather set at or below minimums.
- If you fly multi-engine aircraft in the ATD, you will need a separate category of ATD-SEL and ATD-MEL. This distinction is required by IACRA Form 8710.
- That’s all. No total flight time, no takeoffs, no landings, no PIC, no ASEL, no AMEL, no solo.
- If you’re an instructor providing instruction, you can only log your instructional time as “ground training given.”
An ATD (Basic or Advanced) may be used to log any of the following items:
- ATD TIME (some logbooks call this GROUND TRAINER TIME)
- (if you fly multi engine also, split into ATD-SEL/ATD-MEL)
- DUAL INSTRUCTION RECEIVED (only when with a CFI)
- SIMULATED INSTRUMENT (in IMC)
- INSTRUMENT APPROACHES (weather at or below minimums for each approach)
- INSTRUMENT HOLDS (in IMC)
- INSTRUMENT TRACKING & INTERCEPTING (in IMC)
- GROUND INSTRUCTION GIVEN (for CFIs providing instruction only)
- TOTAL TIME (only if differentiated from total flight time, which is rare in paper logbooks)
An ATD may not ever be used to log any of the following items:
- FLIGHT TIME of any type
–including Total Flight Time
–including Dual Flight Training Given (CFIs)
- AIRCRAFT TIME of any type (it’s an ATD, not an aircraft)
–including ASEL, AMEL
- Night (regardless of settings)
- Cross Country (regardless of how far you fly)
- Solo (even if you’re alone)
- Pilot in Command (you’re commanding a computer, not a real plane)
- Actual Instrument (it’s simulated)