Flight simulator training is an educational tool which is used to provide pilots with opportunities to explore potential aviation situations and emergencies without endangering themselves or the aircraft. Many aviation agencies recognize flight simulator training as part of the training which can qualify someone for a pilot's license, as long as the training takes place on a simulator which has been approved by the agency. Flight simulators are also used by many militaries and aerospace companies to provide training to their employees in addition to creating test situations which can be used to explore new technology.
The complexity of a flight simulator can vary considerably. Basic simulators are simply computer programs which can provide users with a number of scenarios which mimic the experience of flight; such programs are sometimes used by aviation enthusiasts at home so that they can get an idea of what it might be like to be a pilot. More complex flight simulators are full replicas of cockpits, complete with displays showing the “view” out the windows, and the cockpit may be mounted on hydraulics so that it can be manipulated, creating a very realistic simulation of the actual experience of flight.
For basic flight training skills, using a flight simulator can get people familiar with the layout of a cockpit and the mechanics of how to run an aircraft safely. While it cannot necessarily replace time spent in the air, it can get the flight student comfortable, and it can be used to start to introduce students to complex topics, including emergency procedures.
Flight simulator training usually takes advantage of the earthbound nature of the simulator to create simulations of emergency situations which would be dangerous to create in real aircraft to see how trainee pilots respond and to show them how to react to emergencies. An instructor can create situations such as engine failures, mechanical failures of the aircraft, problems with various systems in the plane, heavy weather, and so forth, giving the student an opportunity to see what those situations are like. If the student crashes in the simulator, he or she can learn from the mistakes made during the simulated flight without personal injury or damage to an aircraft.
Pilots who want to work with complex aircraft such as jets or military aircraft often spend time in flight simulator training because they must become familiar with the complicated systems they work with, and because instructors want to make sure that they can operate a plane competently and safely. Licensed pilots may also take flight simulator training as a refresher to keep up skills, learn new techniques, or test their reflexes.