• Yes, Blind People Can Become Flight Simmers

    Yes, Blind People Can Become Flight Simmers

    By Helen E. Cooper

    "That's impossible." was my first reaction when I was told that blind people could become flight simmers. How wrong I was!

    I had watched my sighted friend, Robert Cezar, learning how to use Microsoft's Flight Simulation program and was impressed by the skills that had to be acquired in order to fly without mishap. I could see that the cockpit of even a small aircraft had a confusing array of dials, switches, buttons and displays that gave information on the status of the aircraft. The realism of the scenery was such that I was literally on the edge of my seat watching him narrowly miss mountains, clip the tops of trees, etc. During those early learning days he often landed nose down, props buried deep into the realistically dusty ground; this may sound familiar to other simmers! I could only imagine what the cockpit of a 747 would look like.

    Several months later, when Robert had become proficient at flying a simulator, he decided to expand his hobby by writing an application to make sim flying even easier. After considerable thought, he developed a virtual co-pilot (Michelle or her alter ego Mike) who would perform flight manoeuvers on his command (to ease the burden on the captain) and keep him company on long flights. He enjoyed flying with Michelle so much, that he decided to market the application as an add-on to Microsoft's Flight Simulation program and in early 2007 launched It's Your Plane (IYP) under the parent company Pacific Feelings Media.

    The design objectives of It's Your Plane were to address the needs of simmers with a wide variety of flying preferences; from dare-devil bush pilots who just wanted to hop into their favorite GA aircraft, press Ctrl+E to start the engine and go to full throttle, to those who wished to be virtual commercial airline pilots and go through every checklist prior to, during, and after landing a 737-800. For these and everyone in between, It's Your Plane aims to make their sim flying experience as real as possible.

    Once It's Your Plane (IYP) was up and flying, Robert planned to sit back, relax, and enjoy sim flying. Internet technology development however is a demanding mistress and during his online communications with other simmers he was approached by a blind teenager asking if there were some way that flight simulation could be made more useable for blind people; apparently there existed sim programs for the blind but they were complicated to use by any but the most computer savvy. His inventive mind went into Mach 4.0 and he decided he would write some additional code to adapt It's Your Plane so blind people could also use the program.

    I was sure he was joking; it seemed painfully obvious to me that flying a simulated aircraft was very much an acquired skill requiring a great deal of hand-eye coordination. Well yes, of course, but he was sure he could find a way around the challenge of not being able to see. Throughout his years as a video engineer and business entrepreneur in Canada and California's Silicon Valley, Robert had always taken apparent problems and turned them into opportunities. This was no different, and for the next few months he locked himself in his lab, emerging now and then to reassure his friends and family that he was still alive.

    Rewriting the software required a whole new direction of thought, and during those months of development we conducted extensive research into how blind people use computers and the Internet. It was a definite "eye-opener" to a couple of sighted people. We had no concept of the range of computer technology that might be available to the blind community, and the It's Your Plane software would have to integrate seamlessly with it. Fortunately, we had excellent assistance from many blind simmers. They sent us in-depth information and explained the screen reading and text-to-speech software that provides them access to their computers, the internet and email. In addition, our blind volunteers were invaluable in helping to beta test the product repeatedly until it was ready for release.

    Finally, in 2009, the IYP 'Blind Pilot Mode' was released. This version was specifically designed for use by Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI) pilots and is fully integrated with the original IYP program for sighted pilots.

    What Exactly Is The IYP Blind Pilot Mode?

    The Blind Pilot Mode enables those who are blind or visually impaired to fly most of the It's Your Plane (IYP) supported aircraft from pre-flight to shut down by using their voice. IYP's interactive virtual co-pilot (you can choose Mike or Michelle), listens to the blind pilot's commands, assists with any necessary manoeuvers to fly the aircraft, and performs functions such as positioning the aircraft at the beginning of the runway, auto performing take-offs, auto-landing the aircraft (both ILS and visual approaches), auto-taxiing to the gate, etc. The co-pilot also talks to and walks the pilot through any or all of the IYP flight checklists, which are slightly abbreviated versions of real checklists used by commercial and GA pilots.

    IYP works with the Microsoft Flight Simulator program, with FS2004, FSX, and Prepar3D on XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 platforms.

    With continued input from our blind beta testers, we became more and more aware of how much the sound effects associated with aircraft and flying are of prime, even crucial, importance and interest to blind pilots. In addition to the obvious engine and aircraft manoeuvering sounds, successive updates to IYP include many extra sounds to make the flying experience even more realistic. Pilots can elect to turn on passenger cabin music, ask the co-pilot to give flight-following announcements (what city the aircraft is flying over, what passengers can see from the aircraft, etc.), make crew announcements to the passengers, hear passengers chatter and applaud after a successful landing, etc.

    To view or listen to a blind pilot landing an aircraft with the help of his virtual co-pilot, Mike, watch the IYP video, Can a Blind Person Fly A Plane?


    1 Comment
    1. fdx153's Avatar
      fdx153 -
      Here at Delta Virtual Airlines (flydva.com). One of my hub managers is John Sanders, he to is blind and very good pilot. He also uses this program and says it works great. This is a great program for all to use.
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