Categories
Life

Virtual Flight

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.

Anyway.

Coffee. I need another coffee. I think I might be continuing from Canberra to Sydney a little later this evening.

Categories
Life

Running, Motorbikes, and Pretend Plane Crashes

I’m at the stage of having fallen off the blogging horse where I’m starting to wander around looking for the horse, shouting it’s name from time to time – hoping it will come clip-clopping around the corner from a nearby saloon bar. Actually, I think cowboys whistle for their horse in movies, don’t they ?

Maybe blogging works like whistling up the wind. Maybe if I whistle, the words will begin to appear once again. I wonder if I have to whistle a particular tune ?

Anyway. Today was Monday. A fairly average Monday, if I’m honest.

I scraped myself out of bed at 7am, and met my eldest daughter in the kitchen – already dressed, preparing to go for a run. She has recently discovered that some of her clothes don’t fit any more – so it having a mad health kick to reverse the situation. Of course she discovered perhaps twenty minutes later that running several miles around town is much harder work and less pleasurable than watching Netflix.

I’ve run for two consecutive days now, and my shins have begun complaining about it. A dull ache has returned that hasn’t been there for over a decade. I’m ignoring it, but I know exactly what it is – I have “hyper-flexibility” (or some other such idiotic condition) – meaning my joints are a bit more bendy than they should be. While this doesn’t mean I’m the next Mr Fantastic, it does mean that too much running causes my legs to hurt. It’s as good an excuse as any to have tomorrow off.

I wasn’t supposed to be working today at all, but ended up helping out with a few bits and pieces. My commute is of course hilariously short – about ten steps from the kitchen to the junk room.

What else has been going on?

Oh yes – our middle daughter – she of Rugby and cooking fame in the hereabouts – has been bought a motorcycle. She starts college in September, a few miles out of town. She’s not old enough to learn to drive yet, but is old enough for a 50cc scooter. I imagine (hope) she will use it to get to rugby training when the weather is nice too. Before being let loose on it, we’re forcing her to do a training course. My other half is already threatening to borrow it to get to work.

I looked at getting a scooter for myself a few years ago, but ultimately decided that cycling to the office is a better idea long-term. If not for cycling (and now running) I would end up putting all sorts of weight on. Talking of cycling – I should get out on the bike in the morning, and go for a ride – stop the cycling muscles from checking out completely.

Finally, I’ve continued messing around with flight simulators in the quieter moments of the last few days. It turns out the flying bit is the easy bit – it was always the easy bit – it’s the “doing what you’re supposed to be doing” that takes some learning – flying departures and approaches “by the book”.

I kind of a have a scary story about the simulator too – that happened last night, and took me a while to calm down from, which is ridiculous, because IT’S A VIDEO GAME!

In order to learn more about the procedural stuff, I have been hopping from airport to airport in the simulator, working my way down the coast of Alaska, Canada, the US, across to the US east coast, and then out to Cuba. Last night I setup a flight plan from Havana to Gustavo Rizo – from one end of Cuba to the other.

To make the flight more interesting, I set the time in the simulator to the dark of night, the weather to overcast, filed the flight plan, tuned the radio to the computer-generated air traffic controllers, and set off.

Everything was going SO well. An hour into the flight I had flown the length of Cuba, and was descending into the pattern at Gustova Rizo – following instructions to descend first to 5000ft, and then on the base leg of the pattern, to 2000ft. I couldn’t see anything outside, so blindly followed instructions.

Suddenly every warning light in the cockpit lit up like a christmas tree, and the flight management computer started shouting “WARNING! PULL UP! WARNING! TOO LOW! WARNING PULL UP!”. Before I had a chance to react, there was a horrible scraping sound, then a few seconds of silence, then a sickening crunch sound, and the cockpit went dark.

Flight over.

I went to bed, wondering what on earth had happened, and needed to calm down. I was genuinely shaken up, even though it was a simulator. This morning, I created a new flight – from the destination airport, and flew the route in reverse – looking at the GPS track to figure out where I had been.

The computer generated air traffic control had generated it’s own “standard” approach pattern, because the database of known “standard approaches” didn’t cover the exact airport I was landing at. Unfortunately the flight simulator wasn’t clever enough to figure out that the approach might lead directly through the 3000ft high hills a few miles south of the runway. I had essentially glanced off the highest peak while descending through the clouds in the dark, and ended up in the forest a few hundred yards further on.

It was galling really – if I had been earlier or later making my turn, I would have missed the hill – but no, I was doing exactly what the simulator air traffic controller was telling me to do, exactly when they told me to do it.

So yes. Anyway. Enough about that – before I bore you to death.

The reason for messing around with the simulator at all is to get good enough at it to do a flight with my Dad. Since retiring, he spends his free time doing virtual flights in a flight simulator with a group of friends around the country. They meet up online a couple of times each week, and “fly” a pre-determined route. One of them even acts as air traffic control – managing the queue for departure and arrival. And that’s the bit I’m still terrible at – saying the right thing to the controllers. Once I can do that, I can do a simulated flight with them, and no doubt be mocked mercilessly for any mistakes I make.

I’ll let you know how it goes, if and when it happens.