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Dale Brown’s Ops Report
November 2002
Copyright © 2002, HDM Inc.

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In case you haven’t figured it out from reading my books: I’m a huge gadget freak. I’m sure there are lots of writers who still do their thing with pencil and paper; I know there are lots of pilots out there who have never used an autopilot, GPS navigator, or even flown a plane with an electrical system in it.

I’m DEFINITELY not one of those persons.

[IMAGE] Ever since I started in the flying business, I’ve been involved with simulators. In the B-52 days, the computers needed to operate just the navigator’s simulator for the ASQ-38 bombing system was the size of a railroad car--and in fact it used to travel from base to base on a railroad car. The FB-111A simulator’s computers took up an entire three thousand square-foot facility and were operated by a staff of civilian contractors that slaved ‘round the clock to keep it running. Even a good part of my civilian instrument training was in an ATD 608 desktop simulator that resembled and worked like a child’s mechanical toy airplane.

[IMAGE] In November Diane and I will attend a recurrent training course and spend many hours in a simulator run by a desktop computer--but it is so real you can get airsick in it.

Simcom’s simulators don’t move like other company’s machines do, but that doesn’t mean you lose the effect of motion. The entire cockpit and instrument panel is from a real Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, with all the dials and gauges driven by computer. The images outside the windows are generated by TV projectors that give you a complete 180 degree view outside the airplane. Turn the control wheel, and not only do the gauges and nav instruments move accordingly, but so does the view outside--in stark realism. You will find yourself leaning into “turns” and getting disoriented when you “fly” into a “cloud bank,” just as you would in the real airplane.

The true value of simulator-based training is twofold: using and abusing the equipment unlike anything you’d ever want to do in the real world; and practicing procedures and maneuvers that you hope you’d never have to encounter in the real world. The Cessna 421’s powerful geared engines needed to be handled carefully and deliberately to avoid letting all that horsepower get out of control. In the real world, you’d never want to jam the throttles from idle to full power unless in an emergency. In the simulator, it’s OK to do it to show that the plane will fly itself out of many tight situations.

[IMAGE] Think you can sit in front of a movie screen and never work up a sweat? Just step into Simcom’s simulators and try a simple flight from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale. In that short thirty minute flight, you’re likely to encounter every possible combination of bad weather, broken equipment, uncooperative air traffic controllers, turbulence, gusty winds, and inflight emergencies. Think you can handle anything? A few simple keypresses can humble the most experienced corporate pilots quickly and easily.

Of course, the objective is not to destroy your aircraft completely and crash--it’s to test your knowledge and skills. Good instructors will load you up with realistic scenarios so you’re working hard but still getting valuable training and experience. The trick is to not overload a student--what we used to call in the Air Force “negative training.” They’ll check to see that you can master the basics, throw in a few curve balls to see if you can adapt and think fast, then stretch your skills and knowledge to the limit in ever-increasingly complex situations. A threshold is eventually reached between the “sublime” and the “ridiculous”--but if you can master the sublime, you can learn an awful lot and gain a lot of confidence by tackling a bit of the ridiculous.

And sometimes, simply knowing when you have no options--crash-landing straight ahead when losing an engine shortly after liftoff but before reaching Vyse, for example--is the most valuable lesson of all: knowing when to sacrifice your plane to save your life. Try doing that in your airplane.

Robert Gottlieb
Trident Media Group
(212) 262-4810

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