Wings of the Tern Blog

February 14, 2010

Flight Simulation – Part 2

Filed under: Current Posting — wingsofthetern @ 3:59 pm

The PC instrument trainers were very good in reviewing the procedures that you would use when flying an instrument approach.  Thats a approach to an airport in the clouds by use of the aircrafts instruments alone.  Then came an amazing flight simulator from Micro Soft.  Although, designed to be more of a game, it proved to be a wonderful procedures simulator.  Instead of having only a limited number of approaches, it had the entire world to choose from.  Visually, the graphics were unmatched.  When I got the first version, I immediately put it to a test by bring up the small dirt airstrip of Umiat on Alaska’s North Slope.  Not only was it there, but I took off in a simulated airplane from it and found the north end of Anaktuvuk Pass, from memory alone.  After that, I began to stretch the limits in longer flights by flying between California and Alaska, to Hawaii, the South Pacific Islands and even from Anchorage across the north end of Canada to Maine then north to Greenland.  Since everything is in real time, some of these flights last for hours and require realistic navigation.  I usually fly each flight for an hour, save it and return to complete the mission in later sessions.

One of the best aspects of MS Flight Sim. is the modeling of the weather.  I usually check the aviation weather reports for the time and date that my simulated flight is to take place and then input it into the game.  Rendering of clouds etc is beautifully simulated.

Another feature of MS Flight Sim. is that most all of the radio frequencies and navigation aids are factual.  The game actually uses aviation data for frequencies, runway layout and instrument approaches from Jeppensen Company, a leading supplier of aviation charts.

The airplane models very from small private airplanes to large modern jets like the Boeing 747.  While the game included many aircraft, some of the best airplanes could be downloaded from other sites.  Many of these were repaints or airplanes modeled by individual hobbyist and were freeware.  Some of my best airplanes came from these sources.  Other aircraft were created by larger groups and small companies that offer them for sale.  Most of these range in price between $14 and $25. The benefit to these aircraft is that they are usually far more authentic because of the detail that could be added by a larger number of people, over a longer time, developing them.

Why do I spend my time with a simulation when I have flown the real thing for years, you ask?  Well for one thing, I’m retired and can no longer fly the real thing.  Another reason is that I can simulate flight in aircraft that I would never have been able to fly for real.  My simulated aircraft have ranged from the early Jenny to WW II aircraft like P-51’s and B-17’s.  I also get to see what it was like to fly modern jets from a F-16 to a Lear Jet to larger Airliners.  For navigation, equipment ranges from just a compass, the old “coffee grinder” radios to modern full glass cockpits.  While some of my flights are flown in modern aircraft with state of the art equipment, I really enjoy flying the older airplanes which keeps me current in the procedures that that I was taught over 49 years ago.

Some of these aircraft are extremely complex and detailed.  One of my favorites is a C-130 Hercules Transport.  I recently was able to step into the cockpit of a real C-130 at an airshow and was amazed that the electrical and fuel panels had been authentically reproduced in the simulated airplane.  The most complicated model that I have is the ATR-50, twin engine turbo prop commuter airplane.  The flight manual was well over an inch thick and it took me a solid week of studying the systems before I could fly it.  Virtually all of the systems are simulated right down to working emergency exhaust fans in the avionics bay.  About the only thing that doesn’t work is the weather radar, a limitation of the MS program itself.

I have heard that MS doesn’t intend to make any more upgrades to the simulation.  I really don’t see how it could be improved much from what it is today, nor do I see how non-aviators would enjoy it, which somewhat limits it’s sell-ability.  I would have to say though, that as a flight simulator, it is far more authentic and useful than the old Link Trainer that we used in US Army Flight School.

I am just getting ready to take on my most ambitious flight, so far.  One the many versions of C-130’s that I have is a Navy airplane equipped with skies.  I’m going to fly it from Moffett Field, near San Francisco, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.


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