Sorry, but no news in this post. No new short stories, either.
Nope, this post, such as it is, is all about the X-Plane flight simulator (XP for short) and my own memories of flying, so if uninterested in these sorts of things just stop reading now before you get seriously disinterested.
No, I wanted to write a little about flying today, and I apologize to those of you who drop by for other kinds of stories. Anyway, here goes.
Flight simulators for desktop computers are strange beasts, and by simulators, I mean those programs that don’t involve shooting down aircraft behind enemy lines in a desperate ploy to save the free world from aliens, or Russians. There aren’t too many of them, really, just a handful of realistic simulations, and if you use a Mac there’s only one. X-Plane.
As mentioned a few weeks ago, a friend prodded me into trying the latest version of the sim, XP 11, and I finally broke down and gave it a try. What I’ve been tinkering with on and off since is a far cry from the desktop programs of only a decade ago, and yet this simulator has ‘realism’ that is as breath-taking as it is daunting.
From sun-rays to lightning, it’s all here. But is it simply ‘eye candy’?
Or, take the image at the top of this post, of the terminal building at LEVC Valencia, Spain. This particular airport is a payware file, from X-Aviation, as is the 737-300 just above, but the level of realism is simply surreal – when compared with what was available only a few years ago.
But…why bother with something like a desktop flight simulator in the first place?
Well, if you always wanted to learn to fly but never got around to it, they represent a painless way to try it out.
If you’re scared of flying, sometimes learning more about the ‘mysteries’ behind the scenes can take away some of the anxiety.
If, like me, you used to fly and now you’re too old to imbibe…well…it’s not quite the same thing but it is fun nevertheless. Kind of akin to putting a crossword puzzle together, putting together a short haul flight in a 727 or 737 is challenging, and it brings back a lot of memories. Flying a smooth instrument approach at night and in stormy conditions is kind of satisfying, too, in a “gee, I can still do that” kind of way.
All this was driven home a few days ago when I fired up the IXEG 737-300 and took it from Basel, France/Switzerland, to Munich, Germany. A short flight, true, a little less than an hour, but about as much as felt like doing (and is it just me, but does the idea of “flying” a 747 from Heathrow to LAX – while sitting at your desk – seem kind of silly?)
Anyway, “flying” this 737-300 (733) involves waking it up, fueling it and entering all the pertinent data into the FMS. If you’re proficient you can do all this in about fifteen minutes. Me? It took a half hour – and then some. With the weather set to a-little-bit-cloudy at take-off and clear-on-landing, off I went.
In XP, you have to deal with other traffic, as well as air traffic controllers, so the workload is right up there with the real deal – except you’re alone up front. Things get interesting…yet, all in all, it’s fun.
I made the run under “old-school” conditions, too. No GPS, just VOR/NDB navigation; a little more complicated, a lot less precise, but it’s what I know best.
Anyway, I ended up lined-up on the correct runway at the correct airport, so I must’ve done something right…which was the point of the exercise, if I’m reading myself correctly. Basic insecurities abound as you get older…things like remembering where you’re supposed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night come to mind, or remembering where you put the car keys anytime. So…remembering how to “fly” a 737 comes as a minor victory, in my book, anyway. Given that in no way does flying a desktop sim equal flying the real thing…
Yet, the experience was gratifying.
I’m having all kinds of trouble remembering things these days. Simple things like what day it is, or did I take my morning meds, so knowing that at least one part of my brain is still working pretty much as advertised serves as a kind of pick-me-up. The other thing about XP that I’ve reconnected with is how very much I loved flying. I wrote about that love in The Secret Life of Wings, and many a childhood memory informed that story, yet flying is something very much in my rear view mirror these days. I won’t be doing it again, and all that got me thinking about my father and how he dealt with the same issue.
He loved flying too, you see. And as death loomed I think he missed it all the more. There is that moment, that little sigh that comes when the nose lifts and the wheels leave the ground, when we cease being mere terrestrial beings. We leave all those cares behind for a moment, when we take to the sky, and I think he was going to miss that moment as much as anything.
A few months before he slipped away we, the kids, found a local pilot who had a bi-plane of some sort, and we loaded Dad up and drove him to the airport, helped him climb up into the front cockpit, then we watched them taxi for the runway. He hadn’t been up in years yet I could tell when he came back down to earth that “up there” was where he will always truly belong.
When I wrote about XP a few weeks ago I mentioned a looming pilot shortage, and it’s real enough. If I had a kid, or even a grandkid coming along right now, and if they had even the slightest aptitude for math I’d buy them a copy of X-Plane and sit them down for a look around, let them fiddle with the tutorials for a while. It’s not too big a stretch, is it? To light the fires of interest and see them take hold? Play around in sim for a little, see what develops?
When I got the axe, when the company I worked for went belly up, I became a cop – to help pay the bills. I kept flying – air cargo in light twins – just to keep my hours up, but I also helped a couple of cops learn to fly. The fires burned bright with one such character, and it wasn’t too many years later I helped him move to California, to begin working for an American Eagle affiliate out there. He retired from American a few years ago, an MD80 captain. When I was teaching ethics and whatnot in college, I got another kid interested in flying and helped her take her first steps. She’s flying for Delta now, after a few years flying in the Air Force. You never know.
So I meant that, what I said about passing along your interest in flying. You never know what kind of fire you’ll get going, but maybe those are the best kind of all.
So, you’ll pardon this old fart, but I’m having fun puttering around Europe on my desktop. Reliving some old memories, true, but waking up a part of my life I thought long gone. Because, if nothing else, it’s fun.
And at this stage of the game, fun ain’t half bad.
Anyway, I’ll probably post a few memories here from time to time. Please bear with, okay?