A Sociopath's Guide To Flight Simulation
By Richard Burgess a.k.a. Bill Smith (24 June 2010)
Reaching up to grip the front edge of my computer table, I hauled myself up from the floor of my study and collapsed into the swivel chair. Feeling decidedly woozy, I tried to focus on the 737 instrument panel on my screen. Still breathless, I fumbled with the keyboard to open up the Garmin GPS. I felt close to losing consciousness, as though I'd just been beaten up. I made a mental note to never again run up a ten storey stairwell. Peering at the list of waypoints in the GPS, I could see that my flightsim Boeing was just 51 nautical miles from Cairns Airport.
My jet's descent from 33,000 feet was going to have to be incredibly rapid...like you would have to after suffering an explosive decompression. (A description which very neatly approximated the present state of my lungs!) I slowed the plane to just 200 knots and tuned the communications radio to the radio frequency. After making contact, ATC instructed me to descend to flight level 260 and turn to a heading of 060 degrees. With spoilers deployed, I descended at a hair-raising 6000 feet/minute.
Fifteen minutes later my plane was parked at the gate and I reached for the phone to call the elevator company to tell them that their stupid contraption had stopped working again. I was ready to launch into a tirade of abuse as soon as someone picked up the receiver. However, I was unprepared for the fact that I was still hopelessly out of breath, so my words were wasted. I must have sounded like an obscene caller. The young lady at the other end of the line listened to my gasping and wheezing for just a few moments before saying 'Creep!', and slamming the phone down. I thought about going to lie on the bed for a while. I thought about it for a long time actually, but I couldn't get up out of my chair. So I sat there until Hannah arrived home from school. She bounded into my office and said breezily
'I had to run up the stairs 'cos the elevator's busted again.'
She wasn't even breathing hard! Then she looked at me and said 'Dad! You look terrible!'
Later, much later, we sat on the sofa and ate our micro-waved frozen dinners. I told her that her mum would now not be back until Sunday. She reminded me about playing golf with her friend Courtney this coming Saturday and then asked me if she could sleep over at Courtney's house Saturday night. I had no problem with that. Hannah finished her homework and I made a large pot of coffee. I still had seven more stops to go on my flight sim tour of Australia so I was going to be flying late into the night and into the early hours of Friday morning. If I could get to Perth by Saturday lunchtime, I might even do some touring of New Zealand before Laura got back on Sunday.
Hannah shook me awake at 7:00 AM Friday. 'Are you going to work today Dad?'
I had to think very hard. I had spent the previous evening flying the simulator, but how far had I got? I remembered landing at Mackay and Brisbane and then taking a trip inland to Longreach, home of the Qantas Museum. I could not remember what time I had crawled into bed. All I knew was that I felt exhausted.
'I think I'll catch the bus to school Dad. I don't think you're well enough to walk down ten floors to the car park' Hannah said.
I decided to call in sick one more time, so that I could spend a relaxing day flying on to Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne. Then, in the evening, I planned to fly on to Adelaide, leaving just the return flight to Perth to fly tomorrow, thus completing my circumnavigation of the continent. As it transpired, my plan worked out reasonably well, except for one small detail.
Some time after lunch on Friday, while my plane was flying itself on autopilot down to Hobart, I took my cell phone for a walk along the beach. (Lucky for me, the elevator had been fixed by then).As I strolled along the sand with the phone to my ear, I chatted with Laura, who had just completed her second day of golf with her new best friends David and Eliza Yo. I told her that I was feeling much better, and would be back to work on Monday. The problem was that, unknown to me; my flight-sim friend from the Department of Consumer Affairs had done his homework as promised and was at that moment ringing my home number to warn me about Utah Wholesome Health. When I got back home after my walk, I was too busy handling my approach and landing at Hobart to notice the flashing message light on my answering machine.I flew on to Melbourne before Hannah got home from school and still neglected to check for phone messages. That evening, after yet another takeaway dinner, I flew the short trip from Melbourne to Adelaide without incident and afterwards, for the first time in ages, I went to bed before Hannah.
The next morning, Saturday, while Hannah was packing an overnight bag and organising her golf equipment, I was getting flight QF587 to Perth underway and up to cruise altitude. I knew I could leave the 737-800 on autopilot while I took Hannah and her friend Courtney to the golf course. I was already thinking ahead to where I might fly after lunch when I noticed the message light flashing on my answer phone. As I reached out to press the "play" button, Hannah called out to me from the entry hall
'Dad, come on, we'll be late for the tee-off!"
So I did not play back the answer phone until 45 minutes later, when I returned from the golf course. It was a message left for me the previous afternoon. My heart sank when I heard the details.
'Richard, your instincts were right. The only reason that Utah Wholesome Health's stock price has soared is that the handful of big earners at the top of the pyramid have been systematically selling and re-purchasing their own shares to create the illusion of a stock boom. Also, every member of the so-called "independent" medical board is one of the top two percent earners in the recruitment scheme. And it gets worse! At least two of them have no medical qualifications at all. Just stay well clear of this company. Do not get involved with them!
I immediately picked up the phone and dialled Laura's cell phone to relay the warning. Her phone was switched off. Of course! She would be in the middle of the sales seminar right now. I would try again later. In the meantime I focussed my attention on flying my flight simulator. I had no significant headwinds to worry about, so I would arrive at Perth (YPPH) with a surplus of fuel. When I was within range of the Perth ATIS broadcast, I learned that it was hot and windy in Perth. Instead of approaching Runway 03 as instructed by ATC, I elected to use Runway 06, as the prevailing winds were gusting in from the east. (A typical summer pattern for Perth).
After the flight was completed, I tried to phone Laura again, but her cell was still switched off. I drove back out to the golf course, picked up Hannah and her friend and delivered them both to Courtney's house.
'See you tomorrow' I said as I got into the car to drive back home. By mid-afternoon I had not yet made contact with my wife, and I decided there was still time for one more jet flight to end my flight sim marathon before Laura returned home. I elected to fly from Christchurch in New Zealand to the picturesque resort town of Queenstown. It would only take an hour but the approach into Queenstown through the mountainous terrain would require my full attention.
I suppose that my concern for Laura and the possibility that she might get sucked into a pyramid scheme distracted me from the task at hand. I should have paid far more attention to the amount of fuel that I took on board for the flight to Queenstown. After departing Runway 02 at Christchurch, I took the 737-200 to a cruise altitude of 26,000 feet. At a distance from the Slope Hill VOR of roughly 80 nautical miles, ATC instructed me to descend to 18,000 feet. Later, about 55 NM from Slope Hill, I was instructed to descend again to 10,000 feet, then to 7000 feet. The weather was clear so I cancelled IFR at 29DME from Slope Hill, and used my approach chart to fly between the mountain peaks for an approach into Queenstown's Runway 23.
My speed was down to 140 knots as I banked right over Lake Hayes, and I could see the runway lights ahead. But then low cloud obscured the airport completely, so with no ILS, I had to make a missed approach. It took twenty minutes to climb out of the valley, then reconfigure for another approach. But I had the same problem on the second approach, so I had no choice but to divert to Invercargill, 90 NM to the south. I saw that I was low on fuel, but it should have been enough. There was no ATIS at Invercargill but at 30 miles out, I called the tower who advised me that the airport was closed to IFR traffic. I decided to come in anyway. With flaps out and gear down my fuel consumption during my low-speed approach must have been colossal! At 200 feet above the runway, I could not see it through the fog, so I had to go around and try again. I hoped that I had enough fuel for one last approach. On the second approach into Invercargill the phone started to ring but I had to ignore it and focus on the task at hand. 400 feet...300 feet...200 feet, the answering machine kicked in and I heard Laura's voice.
'Richard, this morning's seminar was real eye-opener'
I tried desperately to block out what she was saying and concentrate on peering through the fog over the runway. She continued...
'Starting today, I'm a distributor for Utah Wholesome Health! I bought twelve business centres! David and Eliza reckon that with their help I'll have a thriving business by this time next year. I'm staying at the airport hotel tonight, catching flight JQ400 first thing tomorrow. I'll be at Coolangatta airport by 8.00 AM. I'll tell you all the details on the drive home. I'm so excited...see you tomorrow!
Blinded by the fog over Invercargill as well as the rage I felt that these two con-artists from Sydney had signed Laura into their wretched scheme without consulting me, I barely even noticed the sound of the engines of my 737 winding down as I attempted to climb away after a second missed approach. The fuel tanks were empty and the plane plummeted and crashed. I couldn't believe it. I never crash!
Now perhaps I could be accused of taking my flight sim a little too seriously, but all I knew right at that moment was that someone had to pay for what had just happened.
The exact details of what occurred over the next few hours are a little hazy, but I can tell you that the internet is a wonderful tool for tracking down private addresses and booking last minute air tickets. I remember little of the 50 minute drive from Broadbeach to Brisbane Airport. I don't remember the flight number of the trip down to Sydney but I do remember that the aircraft was a 767-200. We landed on Runway 34R and it was a very long taxi to the terminal but I can't remember the gate number. I had no luggage to claim, as I only brought one change of clothes with me in a small carry-on bag. The car I rented from the airport was a grey Ford. (In spite of my state of extreme agitation, I had the presence of mind to choose a completely non-descript vehicle for what I was about to do).
I don't recall how long it took me to drive up to North Ryde but it was quite dark by the time I arrived there. I walked four streets from where I parked to David and Eliza Yo's house. Just like its owners, the fancy facade of number 33 was masking something that was really quite vulgar. Now what was I going to do? Well, as luck would have it, the garage door opened automatically as a gold Honda pulled into the driveway. Acting on instinct and driven by adrenalin I just followed the car into the garage and stood to one side, in the shadow of a storage locker. Even from behind, the driver and his passenger looked smug as they stepped out of the car and went through the connecting door into their house. I followed them silently, pausing only briefly to slide a 5 iron from a golf bag propped up near the door. I gripped the handle tightly. They switched on the light in the living room, and Eliza waved a cheque in the air triumphantly. It was a cheque for $1360 dollars with Laura's signature on it.
'We did it!' were the last words that Mr & Mrs Yo ever uttered. Quietly, I stepped from the shadows and smiled as I introduced myself.
'I'm Richard Burgess; Laura's husband... Remember me?'
The force of the head of a golf club when it hits its target never fails to impress me. Well what do you know? Hannah was right; you really can crack someone's head open with one of these things! And the arc of the backswing after the first blow made a beautiful blood pattern on the living room wall!