In my house, there are not many requests as wholesome as “dad, can I play flight simulator?” A request for a second helping of vegetables might compete, but as a lifelong avgeek, X-Plane is screen time for my 8 year old, Reid, that I can get behind. I recently challenged him to navigate to another airport using Foreflight to serve as a fun big picture experience. I just let him figure it out with minimal coaching. I didn’t worry about his altitude, airspeed, or cruising RPM. These are all important, but a simulator allows for a different approach for a budding youth pilot. Now, with his first challenge completed, we’ll spend a portion of the time on the simulator learning new nuggets of information and refining his skills. This lesson ended with an engine out over the lake, but follow along the lesson to see how we got there.


The Roots Of Navigation
At the very core of navigation is the compass. I’ve taught Reid the cardinal directions, using the mnemonic “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.” In the car, I’ll occasionally ask him which direction we’re heading and he’ll reference the compass on the dash. “North,” he’ll say, for instance. At our next traffic light, I’ll say “we’re about to turn right. What direction will we be heading then?” I’ll see him motion at the compass directions, pointing up and saying “never,” then right, saying “eat. EAST!”

Setting up a flight with a setting sun gives an easy visual for West.


The Next Step
With a basic compass primer under his belt, using the heading indicator seems a logical next step. I asked if he knew where the compass was, and he pointed right to the magnetic compass. I wouldn’t throw compass turns at a novice, so I explained the heading indicator. We discussed that there are 360 degrees around the circle, and how even the cardinal directions have a number. The zero is omitted, so 20 is 200 degrees, 13 is 130 degrees, North is 360, East is 90, and so on.

The heading indicator.  Apparently people aren’t calling them “Directional Gyros” much these days.


The Flight
I let him load up the Cessna 172 with his choice of paint scheme and departure airport. I told him to take off and climb up  well away from the ground to practice. Several thousand feet up, I had him level off. We discussed the direction he was heading to make sure we were on the same page. “Ok, give me a turn to the East,” I called out, and I just sat back to see what happened. He banked right and began the turn. I wasn’t too worried about altitude or bank angle in this simulated environment. As East rolled around, I was sure he would over shoot it, but he began to level the wings as it approached and ended up heading due East. “Ok, now turn to 320.” We discussed looking for where it was before beginning a turn. I found that for the big turns (many degrees of turn), he would crank the turn to get there faster. We’re doing great on understanding headings, but not trying for steep turns yet. Let’s reel that in.

It’s a fighter pilot’s standard rate turn…


Standard Rate
I asked him how we could determine how much the airplane is banking. He looked around at the instruments and pointed to the miniature airplane. I showed him how the turn is standard rate when the wings align with the lower mark on that turn coordinator in a turn. I had him turn left and right, lining up the miniature airplane and seeing what the sight picture looked like outside. For the next few headings, I had him turn at standard rate to get there. I gave him a few more: 140, South, North, etc. I figured he was getting bored so I congratulated him for a job well done and started to wrap up the lesson. “You forgot West, dad.” That’s the spirit. “Ok, give me a turn to the West.”

Standard rate to the right.


As he rolled out on West, I reached over to the yoke and pulled the throttle out to idle. “You’ve just lost your engine,” I said. “What do you do now?” He quickly replied with “pick a field.” I’ll take that. Sure, technically, trimming to best glide is first in the list, but we haven’t done much airspeed work, so it’ll do the trick conceptually. Take a look at my video of an engine failure using X-Plane here.  At this point we were out over Lake Lanier in Georgia at about 5000 feet. He looked around off his nose and only saw lake. “I don’t see a field, dad.” I let him look around for a bit and could see that his field choice was about to be a risky one. “Hey, what’s that?” I said, pointing to a little dot on the GPS screen. The dot was marked GVL – the airport from which we departed. It was directly behind him. “Looks like an airport to me,” I said. He made a nice (standard rate) 180 degree turn to find a long, familiar runway down below.

That’s lake Lanier down below.  Not a lot of options to land…in the field of view…


Bring It Home
He nosed over for the runway, picking up some speed and putting his flaps down. He was high and fast but on the conceptual path to success. Getting down over the runway, he put it down and hit the brakes, bringing the airplane to a full stop. I gave him a high five and congratulated his success. It looks like airspeed is our next logical lesson.

The field is made.  Drop some flaps and put her down.


After a little work like this, I let him do whatever he wants, which often involves something big and fast. This particular victory lap was an airliner that he ended up putting down in the lake for whatever reason. “Look dad, I’m not Reid. I’m Sully!”

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