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Using a Simulator to Keep Instrument Current

May 25, 2021 15:12 | Anonymous

Are you interested in maintaining your instrument currency via a certified flight simulator? In 2018, new regulations were introduced allowing instrument-rated pilots to maintain currency by using an Aviation Training Device (ATD), such as a simulator. Here in North Dakota, three local airports have certified flight simulators readily available to the public: Mandan Airport, Mohall Airport, and Hillsboro Airport. 

The Hillsboro Airport simulator is the most recently completed. We were able to visit with Larry Mueller, the Hillsboro Airport Manager, about their simulator project and what it provides to the local aviation community. 

The idea for a simulator was discussed for about two years, as interest and demand grew for more opportunities to maintain their instrument currency. “There are no other options that we know of in the eastern half of North Dakota to publicly rent a certified simulator,” Mueller said. “With the amount of demand, we thought this might be a service we could provide at the airport.”

The simulator can cater to a variety of training needs, but is particularly valuable for instrument training and currency. The Hillsboro Airport project team looked at the population of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) rated pilots in the region and found Hillsboro to be easily accessible by pilots in the eastern area of the state, as well as others across the Upper Midwest. Mueller shares, “Based on our research, we found no one else in our area with a certified flight simulator for public use.” This allows Hillsboro Airport to offer any Certified Flight Instructors (CFI) or flight schools the opportunity to incorporate the simulator into their training program. Hillsboro is in non-controlled airspace, making it very easy for pilots who want some extra training to practice with a mentor or flight instructor in a less congested area with very limited interruptions.

Certified flight simulators are not cheap, but the Hillsboro Airport matched criteria that allowed the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) to fund 50% of the project. This included up to a maximum amount of $25,000, and ensuring they had an acceptable business, marketing, and management plans. As Mueller shared, “We had enough people commit to buying time cards locally that we felt our local share of the cost would be covered within three years.” With instrumental help from the Hillsboro Airport Authority and the NDAC, the project transitioned from an idea into reality.

The certified flight simulator features a variety of aircraft: 

Archer III (17 panel configurations)

Arrow IV (17 panel configurations)

Baron 58 (13 panel configurations)

Bonanza A36 (13 panel configurations)

Cessna 172R (17 panel configurations)

Cessna 172S (17 panel configurations)

Cessna 182S (17 panel configurations)

King Air B200 (13 panel configurations)

Mooney M20J (13 panel configurations)

Seneca III (13 panel configurations)

It can simulate com­plete startup, flight, and shut down pro­ce­dures. Pilots can also use it to perform approaches, hold­ing, intercepting and tracking as required under the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Sec­tion 61.57(1) to maintain instrument currency. Modern GPS options, such as a Garmin 430, 650, or 750, are also included.

Pilots can customize their training with a variety of weather factors, such as varying cloud conditions at selected altitudes, rain, snow, wind, and even turbulence. Instructors can place the plane wherever they wish, and incorporate system failures in flight. The simulator also has bluetooth connectivity compatible with ForeFlight or Garmin Flight. This allows pilots to use their iPad just as they would in their aircraft, with all current IFR charts and publications at their fingertips. “It appears on ForeFlight just as if you were actually in your own airplane.” Mueller adds. “And best of all, it has a pause button. When you find yourself getting in over your head, you can stop and learn from the moment, and then backup or continue. It allows for intense training time.”

Mueller states the best training that takes place in a simulator usually involves procedures. “It’s not the same as actual flying, so it has its limitations. But for learning procedures where you want to repeat certain processes over and over, a simulator is a great tool and much less expensive than flying a plane.” Additionally, for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilots, it can be a great way to practice flying over terrain or areas that are new to you. 

 The Hillsboro Airport team hopes the simulator will be utilized and beneficial to pilots both local and beyond. “This could also be a great tool for incorporating young students into an aviation program at a very affordable price.” says Mueller. “STEM aviation programs are becoming more common in the area high schools, and this could be a great tool to take some of the learning from classrooms and incorporate it into the simulator.” 

The simulator is open to the public, regardless of where they are located, and can be accessed by anyone who purchases a membership plan. Once approved, it is easy for pilots to access the simulator at their convenience. It’s as simple as reserving a time and showing up! “Keeping current is a key to keeping safe.” Mueller says. “It’s often hard to find safety pilots to ride along when you are ready to fly. The simulator is very affordable and allows you to practice and really learn every piece of your panel and GPS, as well as pausing to think things through on the ground before going up in the air. It allows for a very relaxed state on the ground before doing it in the air.”

Learn more about maintaining your instrument currency using a local certified flight simulator:

Hillsboro Airport

Larry Mueller: (701)430-1642 or

Don Hanson: (701)430-1250 or

Mandan Airport

Marc Taylor: (701)220-0715 or

Mohall Airport

Mike Nehringr: (701)263-1008 or

For more information concerning membership 

options and costs, go to

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