• Breaking the Boundaries - From Flight Simulation to Real Flight

    Breaking the Boundaries - From Flight Simulation to Real Flight

    By Michael Hayward

    Before I get started, I must say a massive thank you to Ben Hilton, who gave me the opportunity to fly with him last year. He has a YouTube Channel where he uploads a number of flying videos which is well worth checking out:


    Towards the end of last year, I took a flight in a Flight Designs CTSW microlight from Elstree Aerodrome, up to the Imperial War Museum Duxford and back. Now there's only one way you should ever go to an aviation museum, and that is to fly there.

    For years now I've aspired to take flight in a (micro)light aircraft and really get a feel for flying from the cockpit. Thanks to years of flying on the various simulators available for the PC, and also trips to Poland in the summer, I have always enjoyed flying and one day hoped I would become a pilot.

    Having only ever flown commercial, I finally got the opportunity to head out in a light aircraft, and that's something I would never turn down!

    The pilot is a personal friend of mine, Ben Hilton. We've played Airsoft at the same site for a number of years, so I already had a good idea of his character. Ben has been flying since he was 17, and works for Fly By Light; a flight school and plane hiring company, and has recently trained for his instructor's rating in the French Alps.

    We had tried to fly a week before in the Ikarus C42, but strong winds that were beyond the aircraft's capabilities (18 knots and gusting, the Ikarus can only fly at 15) meant we had to abort takeoff as soon as we reached the runway. A shame, but we weren't going to leave it at that.

    Arriving at Elstree on a Wednesday morning, I headed into the Fly By Light base of operations, where Ben was calling up Duxford announcing our intention to fly. Winds were good, visibility was perfect, and there were 2 POB. It was at that moment I really started to get excited - We were actually going to do it!

    Our outbound flight departed Elstree RWY26 at 0937z. We were given clearance to taxi onto the runway and depart on our own accord with winds at 8 knots. As we taxied into position, we both started humming the theme to Top Gun. This was going to be an experience...

    Ben spooled up the propeller, did his last check ensuring the plane had power, and we were off!

    The feeling of rotating in the smaller aircraft was definitely an experience. Not as 'harsh' as a jetliner, we crawled off the ground ever so slightly. Ben stabilised for the winds, kept the plane steady, then increased our angle of attack.

    We looped around the airfield heading left downwind, before turning to the left and leaving their airspace. We cruised at 1500 to 1600 feet and were airborne for a good 47 minutes.

    Being in a light aircraft and flying from the cockpit, is a VERY different experience to anything I've done before.

    Even though I had flown light aircraft in simulators, there was a lot that now felt new to me due to the 'real' environment.

    The feeling you get with a real aircraft, is something no simulator can ever replicate. During climb out and descent, you can really feel the G-forces on your body. Turbulence is also interesting to fly through, as is the feeling of being powerless to stronger gusts of wind that occasionally blow past you. Fortunately for us, winds were rather calm, so this was not something we felt much of at all. As soon as we rotated and stabilized the aircraft, Ben then pulled back on the stick, increasing our rate of climb as we reached our cruising altitude of 1500 to 1600 feet. While only light, you can really feel the G-forces that come over you as you increase your climb rate, or push to the left and right as you bank.

    One thing I noticed, was how sensitive the flight stick really is. The slightest of movements is enough to bank the aircraft and send it into a turn. You can also feel each vibration as the airflow and turbulence wraps itself around the wings. Most if not all simulator joysticks are very static with how they work, using deadzones to stop any spiking that may occur with a faulty sensor. This is certainly not something a real aircraft suffers from, especially with light aircraft which use cable linkage directly attached to the control stick.

    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Lovely article Michael, well done...I thoroughly enjoyed the read!

    1. stevefranklin's Avatar
      stevefranklin -
      Very enjoyable!
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