This “virtual flight” thing is addictive. While most people have been reading books, and watching TV shows during lockdown, I have been learning how to operate and fly a Boeing 737.
I’m not even sure why.
I’ve always been interested in aircraft. I grew up next to one of the busiest Air Force bases in England, so they were unavoidable really – always in the air overhead, or rumbling away in the distance.
Perhaps it’s to do with the complexity – the challenge of mastering something complex. Taking a commercial airliner from cold and dark on the tarmac to a humming, hissing, roaring, fifty ton lump of metal thundering down the runway and into the air – and navigating across contintents via GPS, navigation beacons, and radio communication requires a certain mindset.
In many ways I suppose the attention to detail, following of procedures, planning ahead, and working through scenarios have parallels with my real-life work. My real life work doesn’t involve travelling at thirty six thousand feet with a few hundred people’s lives depending on my skill though.
While talking to some friends about my idiotic new hobby earlier, they asked if flying an airliner was actually pretty straightforward then – given that I had learned it in a few weeks. I responded that yes, it was pretty easy – as long as everything went as planned. I have learned just enough to operate a perfectly working machine. If anything untoward happens though, I’m in trouble.
Have you ever seen a pilot being tested in a simulator? The only time they really use simulators is to throw Kobyashi Maru style tests at them (unwinnable situations) – to test their decision making skills – to find out if they follow procedures when under stress.
There’s a wonderful moment in the movie “Sully” – about the landing of the plane on the Hudson in New York – where the air accident investigation board suggested that pilots in simulators had been able to get back to a runway in the city after the bird-strike that wiped out the engines. They had one crucial advantage – they knew what was going to happen in advance.
One unexpected outcome of playing around with the simulator is taking friends on virtual flights. I’ve done a couple now. This morning I flew from Melbourne to Canberra in Australia – while being watched both by my teenage daughter (sitting next to me), and a friend on the internet (sitting at home in Melbourne, Australia).
If you would like to tag along for the ride, sit in the virtual cockpit with me, and fly from and to somewhere in the world while talking about anything and everything, let me know – all you’ll need is Zoom. If you’re scared of flying, it might even be a good way of “pulling back the curtain” – seeing what the flight crew do, and how the plane really works.
Coffee. I need another coffee. I think I might be continuing from Canberra to Sydney a little later this evening.