For many years, a staple in flight training has been the use of flight simulators. Flight simulators have evolved over the years to the point where it seems as if you are actually flying an actual aircraft while inside.
One of the largest breakthroughs in this technology is the fact that failures can be simulated. Nowadays, pilots or pilots in training can experience things like loss of an engine, wind shear, or even excessive turbulence without ever leaving the ground. The safety of a well-engineered simulator allows flight instructors to really challenge their students and observe how they would react in these situations. Aside from the main and auxiliary panels that control all of the aircraft systems, today's simulators have a separate panel for the instructor to generate these conditions.
To further the realistic experience of simulators, video graphics and software have evolved so swiftly that if you were to go into a simulator cockpit of a plane that is sitting at D/FW International Airport you'd swear that you were actually there if you didn't know you were in a simulator. This software has become so intricate because of the need for reality, and it will only get better and more realistic.
Modern flight simulators integrate not only the electrical systems of an aircraft, but simulate aircraft movement by mounting the entire simulator onto hydraulic and/or pneumatic stilts that create the feeling of actual flight. Most companies spare no expense in building these simulators because they want to make the experience as real as possible for the pilots who are training.
Many civilian flight schools use desktop flight simulators for training as well. These simulators are basically just a desktop computer with simulator software loaded onto the computer, however there are many companies that manufacture flight controls that can be used in tandem with the software. While this is much less realistic than an actual simulator, it is still a very effective tool for instruction and a great way to acclimate a student pilot to flight dynamics and procedures.
The benefits of using simulators are great to both the student and to the school, the two most notable being safety and cost. Safety is a big issue, especially since you don't want a student pilot to fly through inclement weather or similar circumstance. In addition, both the school and the student will save on costs by practicing in a simulator before going up for real. The downside of flight simulators is that flight training is time-intensive and simulator time is not time that is able to be logged.
Still, the use of flight simulators has greatly improved the safety and efficiency of flight training, and as technology improves so will the simulators. Flight simulators have become a mainstay in a pilot's carrer and education, and they are becoming more mainstream for hobbyists and enthusiasts as well. Thanks to this technology, both air travel and recreational aviation have become much safer in the last 20 years.