• Special Report: Real Simulator Experience

    Report On 'Real' Simulator Experience

    By Terblanche Jordaan

    Recently I had the privilege to have quite a few hours in the flight simulators at Johannesburg International Airport. It was due to the benevolence and generosity of my former IF instructor and now training captain on the Boeing 737-800's for SAA, Capt. Walter (Wally) Waldeck.

    I have to admit it was not my first or second time that this privilege came to me as a gift, but it was the first time since FS2000 and FS2002 brought us much, much more realism with FMCs and EICAS displays and therefore it was time to 'show-off' BUT to be brought back to earth (so to speak) with a shock or two that I thought I would share with the flightsim community.

    BOEING 737-800

    First it was into the B737-800 cockpit. It is spacious and with everything that will make any pilot's heart go "v1 ... vr ... v2!"

    The overhead panel, autopilot and FMC, are very much the same as the B737-400 and with all the hours with the latter, thanks to DreamFleet, it was easy to familiarize myself with that. The autopilot is a bit more advanced and you could, for example select the VNAV and LNAV on the ground (like the B747-400). I've started the APU and started to program the FMC without any problem. Wally was in the back programming the simulator computer for weather on route, other air traffic and dusk settings. The flight was FACT (Cape Town) to FAGG (George).

    The EICAS is a bit confusing with more than one display on one EICAS screen, for example you have the ND and three other displays on one screen while the PFD shares a screen with a separate altimeter and speed display. But the screens are big and it just takes a while to get used to it. Apparently all the cockpits for the B737-800 will soon be reconfigured to have the PFD and ND display alone on two EICAS displays, very much the same as the B747-400.

    The nicest part of the cockpit is the HUD and every B737-800 in the SAA fleet will soon have one. Now this little 'toy' cum 'luxury' (because it costs an arm and one leg), can give you all the information you need on a little 20cm x 20cm display. If you want to try it within FS2002 you could go to http://www.alliedfsgroup.com/ and get the very real thing there and then you try and fly the big circle over the small circle and tell me it's easy in FS2002, now multiply that with your age plus your IQ and you have more or less an idea how it is in real life.

    We taxied out to runway 01 and the moment the throttles were pushed forward I realized that this is not a game. The first 100 meters were a lesson in keeping the nose on the center line and pulling back on the stick was harder than I expected. But we got airborne; Wally did the wheels and flaps. Because the LNAV and VNAV were selected, I followed the crossbars on the PFD and flew out of Cape Town. We decided to fly it manually until 8000 feet before selecting the autopilot. It was pure adrenaline rush just to get airborne and I was just about to relax when the TCAS went off...the little white dot on the screen showed a fast moving object descending right towards us. We missed each other with about 1500m and Wally made me attend to the fact not to relax just because it is on autopilot. Stay with your concentration and be in control.

    The rest went smooth and quite familiar. The FMC started our descent and by that time the weather was bad and clouds were (very realistic) flying past the windows. Words that I played back over and over afterwards were "do you want to do a CAT III approach or what ..." and stupid that I am decided to disconnect the autopilot at about 500 feet to try and fly this airplane manually on the HUD - why not, I've done it a thousand time in FS2002 ... mistake! BIG mistake!

    First of all, you have one eye that focuses 30cm away on the HUD and another eye that focuses through the window to try and see where the runway lights are. You keep on over correcting with bigger and bigger movements on the stick to try and keep that big circle over the small circle and then you see the runway lights ... turbulence pushes you to the left ... positive rudder ... "decision height!" comes the command from an experienced co-pilot ... pull back on the throttle ... the airspeed rapidly falls because of the headwind and turbulence ... more power ... less power ... to the left ... to the left and BANG! one bounce ... two ... reverse thrusters because you remember flying at George while doing my PPL years ago that it is not a long runway for 737s ... it's wet ... less brakes ... argggh what a cock-up for a landing!

    I wanted to take my bag, leave the simulators and fly back that same evening to Cape Town to walk straight into the sea and drink myself into an aqua oblivion! We left the B737-800 simulator for the Airbus and I was quiet and most of all - very humble!

    AIRBUS A320

    No time to scratch my ego wounds. Thank goodness for something familiar. Years ago when I did my CPL in Johannesburg I made friends with some technicians on the A320 simulators and we've spend many many nights flying it to all sort of different locations. Sometimes from midnight to dawn with a few Big Macs and Coke Lights.

    Now, I've always been a bigger Airbus fan than a Boeing fan simply because I loved the EFIS, FMC (that Airbus calls MCDU) and Fly-by-Wire system. It was easier for me then to fly the Airbus than to do my King 200 conversion for obvious reasons. BUT - and it is a hesitant BUT - after the Boeing everything in the Airbus felt plastic. The little knots on the autopilot, the knots on the pedestal and even the plastic knots on the overhead panel. No time to waste ... it was already past midnight and Wally was in the simulators since 7 am that morning doing the HUD conversions for other pilots. I've programmed the MCDU for a flight from EDDM (Munich) to LOWI (Innsbruck) to LOWS (Salzburg) back to EDDM which I planned and printed with FSNavigator and took with me into the simulator. Spot on!

    We took off and again I was amazed by the realism that PSS created in their aircraft and panels. Everything works exactly as the real thing; except obviously the feeling of the aircraft in motion. "No weather this time" - I sighed to Wally who, after all his years at SAA, never did a conversion on the Airbus and who has never been in one. As an aerobatic pilot himself and the proud owner of his own Pitt Special, he tried steep turns and climbs and every time the fly-by-wire computers would override his behavior. You cannot roll or stall the Airbus, even if you try. The EICAS displays are much smaller than the Boeing's but for the rest the offset ILS for LOWI went smooth and the rest of the flight as well.

    Needless to say I could not sleep that night and long after the lights were off I could still feel my bad landing at George Airport and dream about the good landing in Salzburg...

    WHAT DID I LEARN?

    First of all that the daytime scenery in FS2002 is so much more advanced than the FS4 look-alike scenery in the simulators. BUT their night scenery is superior, with cars moving on the highways, clouds are amazing and the lights of a city (even far away) looks so real that if you would blindfold a person and put them in the simulator they will not know the difference. Could our scenery designer not find out what program they are using in the simulators and try to duplicate that into FS2002?

    Secondly, the incredible work that people like DreamFleet did with their B737-400, Wilco with their 767 and PSS with their Airbus. You guys are great! BUT sitting at home behind a 21" monitor with all the bells and tooters next to you and being on Squawkbox is only 20% of reality. The other 80% is to know that you are in a $300m airplane with 120+ pax behind you; flying in weather that is constantly changing the behavior of your aircraft; to have enough experience to make decisions on will you continue the take-off, will you divert in bad weather, will you continue the approach, etc.

    Thirdly, do not think that because you have 3000 hours on FS2002 logbook that you will be able to fly a real Boeing or Airbus. If you have a few hundred hours of real PPL or CPL experience, yes-possibly but to think that Microsoft will teach you how to fly an airplane into bad weather with ATC yelling at 200 other aircraft into the Heathrow TMA is not possible. And to suggest that FS2000/FS2002 could teach you how to fly B757s through buildings is even more removed from reality.

    In the fourth place nothing on a PC could create the feeling of "something can go wrong". In the training simulators that airlines have nowadays, they could through anything at you and you could get hurt in a simulator if you are not strapped in like the real pilots are, but still you have a red button that could stop the hydraulic pumps that are keeping the simulator 30 feet in the air. I can only imagine your sense of awareness when you are 30000 feet up in the air.

    In the fifth and last place you could buy yourself a B737-800 or A320 simulator from the manufacturers for about $20m for a second hand one or you could have a lot of fun (and reality) on a $1500 machine depending on your budget and let me tell you this: I will never - but never - complain again about FS2002 because what Microsoft gave us for our obsession (because it is not a hobby!) is incredible and what freeware and shareware designers (even the sharks) have given us, is superb!

    Terblanche Jordaan
    [email protected]


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