Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Don't wanna be a wanna be (real world flight, part 2)

As the hour of my intro flight lesson approached, I was conscious of a growing fear. Not of flying, of course, but of coming off as a pilot "wanna be", or a simulator dweeb, or whatever. I was afraid my instructor would look at me through his Ray-Bans and say "Look here, computer boy, everything you think you know about flying from that "game" is wrong. Today you're going how it really is." Well, maybe not exactly that--most pilots are very decent and polite folks.

My worry was more about how I could demonstrate that I've learned quite a bit from the simulator, without sounding like a clueless wanna be. I realize that there are many ways in which the real thing differs, but there are conceptual things I have learned from simming that give me a leg up. For instance, I have a good understanding of how power controls climb and descent, and attitude controls speed. I understand how to use the rudders for turn coordination. Does the real aircraft respond to inputs the same way as the sim? Of course not. But I've got the basic ideas in my head.

As it turned out, my instructor was a pleasant young woman named Stacy, not the aloof and intimidating Ray-Ban Man of my fears. She asked me how I got interested in aviation, so I said I have been flight simming for a while. She said "Yeah, that's a great program" but let it drop. I got the impression that she didn't think much of it but was just being polite. I squelched the impulse to rise to FS's defense. I stood by patiently while she explained how the controls work, stuff that was very familiar to me. I mentioned that I probably had hundreds of simulated hours in a 172, but she didn't respond to this. Oh well. But I was ok being the humble student, and spend most of my time just drinking in the sounds and sights and feel of the actual plane.

Once aloft, Stacy must have caught me looking at the panel because she tapped the windshield and said something to the effect of "We mostly fly by looking out here". I knew that. I had heard the criticism before that folks who go from the simulator to the real thing have a tendency to keep their eyes bolted to the panel. But I let it go. However, she was impressed that I used the rudders properly when making a turn!

So, that's how it went. I probably should have been more vocal about how much I have learned from simming-- maybe Stacey would have spent less time explaining the basics, or let me do more. But I did get to try a lot of cool things, and as I said before, the whole experience was a blast.

In the next post, I will focus on how the real thing compares to my sim experience.

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