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Flying Computers



In the U.S. a pilot's license is good forever but to actually be able to use it there are various additional requirements, one of which is a flight review every two years where you go out with an instructor and demonstrate that you still know what you're doing with an airplane. My review was due this month and given that I had not flown all that much over the past year I asked to do a more thorough review than the regulations require.


Today we were scheduled for the second flight in the review, but it was clear that low clouds and possible rain made a VFR flight impossible. I'm not instrument rated but private pilots are expected to have some minimal instrument skills--but not much more than being able to track a course to a navaid. I had previously talked to the CFI about doing some more instrument work and he suggested that today would be an ideal chance to do that in actual IFR conditions, and they had a plane ready to go.


Well, what fun! Instead of a routine VFR flight we would take a modern Diamond DA-40 with an equally modern Garmin G-1000 glass cockpit, something many flightsimmers may have tried. This is quite different from my normal ride, with things like a stick instead of a yoke, castoring nose wheel, variable pitch prop, etc.


So off we went on a round robin flight. By the time we came back I had 1.5 hours in the log, with 1.3 hours of actual IFR conditions, three instrument approaches (two ILS and one GPS) and had flown the entire flight from takeoff to landing. The time literally "flew" by :-)


So, what did I take away from this? First, transitioning from yoke to stick is so easy that virtually no thought is required. It immediately felt natural. Also that flying a different light plane isn't so hard for a reasonably experience pilot if the plane is not vastly different.


But I guess what struck me most during the flight was how little sensation there was of being actually in command of a real plane. With those two big computer screens in front of me and absolutely nothing to see out the windows (actual IFR conditions remember) it was barely different from flying the simulator. So what's happened is that because of the changes in real world planes/avionics our sims have become much closer to that "as real as it gets" goal that's been chased for so long.


I supposed I have mixed feelings about this. It's great from a simmers point of view since the goal of a sim is to be as accurate as possible. But from a pilot's point of view it's a bit different. If you're using the plane to get from here to there the modern technology does make things better, no doubt. But if you want to just fly, and enjoy the experience and feeling on a visceral level I think an older cockpit with "steam gauges" is a better choice.


In any event it was an interested experience. And though we're planning on one more flight I am signed off to fly for another two years :-)

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I am glad to see other real pilots like to fly the computer, too. My biennial is 12 years past due, but I have done about 50 landings in a Redbird FMX this summer. (I was an instructor at an aviation-themed summer camp, but that's a whole 'nother story.) Flying is flying, even if you're on the ground.

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