Friday, October 28, 2011

Flight Simulator

When I was in Barrow, Alaska a few winters ago, I visited with the Search and Rescue pilots who would be alerted if I'd been in an emergency. Touring their office, I was surprised to see one pilot seated at a PC, flying a flight simulator, like you see above. These computer programs have come so far that they're useful for pilots to keep up basic hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, and, probably most importantly, checklist procedures memory when they're not actually flying. So, now, sometimes late at night, when I can't sleep or need some item to work on the balloon project, but don't have it, I fly a flight simulator to keep me conversant with things like glancing at the altimeter to know my altitude, understanding the effects of winds (I can set clouds and winds at whatever altitudes etc. I want), and checklists; for example, in the screen grab above, I'm making my 'base' leg of the approach (which I learned in paragliding flight training) and have to keep an eye on my altitude, speed (not too fast, not too slow!), using flaps to decelerate at a certain time, my vertical speed (and whether it's positive or negative), drop landing gear at the right time, and so on as I maneuver in for a landing at dusk at an airstrip near San Francisco.
For the balloon project, the main things of relevance here are becoming familiar with the altimeter and the vertical speed indicator, both instruments on my current flight panel. Otherwise, not much here is directly relevant to flying a balloon, but there are balloon simulators out there, and I mean to get one. I will then connect that to some actuators that will activate my flight panel instruments, so that as the program runs on the computer, sitting at the controls I will be able to simulate flights while completely suited up in the pressurized pressure suit. That will be invaluable experience, just as simulator time is a major component of any pilot's training and skills maintenance.
Flying the simulator is also, I have to say, a lot of fun. I am certain that some elements make it sometimes harder to fly than an actual airplane; for example, there is no physical sensation of movement, that pilots use to help gauge what the aircraft is doing, and as good as the graphics are, depth perception is still difficult to simulate.
In the image I'm setting up landing in a twin-prop Cessna. I like twin-prop aircraft of any kind, and don't like much single-engine craft of any kind! I have been in enough of them--over Canada, Kenya, and Alaska--to realize that I don't like staking so much on just one engine!

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