• Feature: A Sociopath's Guide To Flight Simulation Part 1

    A Sociopath's Guide To Flight Simulation

    By Richard Burgess a.k.a. Bill Smith (10 June 2010)

    Part One

    Thwack! The sound of the head of a golf club when it hits its target never fails to impress me. From a vantage point directly behind my 14 year-old daughter, I marvelled as her ball sailed up in a beautiful arc towards the green.

    'Great shot Hannah!' I called. 'How come I could never hit it like that?'

    Her friend Courtney, positioned a safe distance away, applauded politely. Hannah swung around and frowned at me.

    'Dad, you really shouldn't stand so close when I tee off. I could crack your head open with this thing' she said, brandishing her 3 wood.

    Courtney nodded in agreement.

    'She's right you know Mr Burgess, that club could be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands.' I instinctively bristled at the idea of receiving safety instructions from a couple of teenagers. I also wondered privately why Hannah's friends always addressed me so formally when I have worked so hard to cultivate the illusion of affability. (All my colleagues just call me Richard) But instead of making an issue of it I responded with...

    'OK, well you girls carry on... I'll be back to pick you up later. See you in the clubhouse at noon.'

    'See ya' Hannah said in her broad Queensland accent as she turned back to watch her friend step up and push a plastic tee into the lush turf.

    'Yep, well I have things to do' I said as I waved goodbye and turned to walk back to the car park.

    'Things to do?' I muttered to myself .There was only one thing I ever did on these sunny Gold Coast Saturday mornings. Flight Simulation!

    Earlier that morning, I had been obliged to leave my FS2004 Boeing 737 on autopilot, before locking the front door and scrambling into the elevator with Hannah, as usual, urging me to hurry along.

    'Can't you tear yourself away from that computer game for just one weekend?' she had moaned.

    'It's not a game!'

    'No, not the way you play it dad. It's an obsession!'

    'So is your golf!' I'd retorted as we stepped out into the basement car park of our Broadbeach apartment. We had picked up her friend Courtney along the way and arrived at the golf course with minutes to spare. I had been impressed at the confident way Hannah addressed the ball and watched her tee off towards the first green. She knew that I had tried my hand at golf many years ago, and failed miserably. That had been long before Hannah was born, long before we moved to the Gold Coast, and long before I had even heard of something called "flight simulation". Flight sim is not just my hobby these days; my whole life centres on it.

    FS was foremost on my mind as I drove my brand new Outback away from the golf course, anxious to get back to my home computer before the simulated Qantas flight reached the top of its descent into Perth. The only likely problem during the east-west flight across the Australian continent might be the high-level winds, which can at times cut a jet's ground speed by as much as 150 knots! If that were to happen, then I planned to divert to Kalgoorlie. But I would deal with that as soon as I got home and checked the 737's speed and fuel burn rate. In the meantime, I adjusted the car's climate control temperature down to exactly 21.5 degrees, set the cruise control to precisely 60 kilometres an hour and drove serenely towards home.

    Diversion due to weather was an unexpected problem that I had calmly dealt with earlier in the week, while I was flight simming at work. (Hannah is quite correct, I'm completely addicted to flight sim.) You see, the truth is that my line of work is so easy, I can get at least two short haul jet flights completed on my office computer almost every working day. I still manage to deal with the never-ending line of miserable losers who sit on the other side of my desk each day and the best thing is: nobody is any the wiser. If that sounds a little harsh then let me assure you that a healthy contempt for people's problems is a pre-requisite for heading the Human Resources Department of a State Government organization. The sign on my sound-proof office door (which is habitually kept firmly closed) reads "Richard Burgess, Human Resources Manager".

    As a "Level 7" public servant, I have the authority to carefully control the flow of appointments in my office, and any one of my 45 minute meetings can be exactly timed to coincide with the cruise phase of the simulated airline flights on my desk-top computer. Routinely, I begin each working day by planning a high-altitude jet route of approximately 400 nautical miles. I have all the appropriate approach charts readily to hand before I push back from the gate. With the joystick plugged in to my desktop computer and my office door locked, my simulated flights can begin. Usually, after about 30 minutes, my aircraft has reached cruise altitude and by 9.30am I am almost ready to see my first appointment. I simply hide the joystick in the shelf under the desk, turn off the computer's speakers and get up to unlock my office door. Trying to look very business-like, I "warmly" usher each visitor into my office and motion them to sit, whilst secretly wondering how quickly I can rush them out again.

    It is my habit to feign attentiveness by leaning forward in my chair slightly as I pretend to listen to each staff member's seemingly endless litany of complaint. I try to remain silent and I make a great show of taking notes while they pour out their problems. Just a small nod of my head seems to be enough to re-assure these idiots that I am taking them seriously. The pen in my right hand hovers meaningfully over a small notebook. From the other side of the desk, the human flotsam cannot see the aircraft instrument panel displayed on my 22 inch screen. Neither can they see that each page of my notebook is split down the middle. On the left hand side I keep track of the fuel burn rate as my simulated flight passes each waypoint along the route. On an aircraft such as the Boeing 737, I always like to land with about 6000 Lbs of fuel remaining. On the right hand side of each page I can summarise each staff member's predicament with a few well chosen comments. As I am far more intelligent than any one of these sad individuals, I have the ability to tune out all of the tedious detail of their stories and keep very concise notes indeed. For example:

    Miss X: This work-shy individual would rather receive paid stress leave than deal with the fact that her inability to complete the most menial of tasks is causing problems for her immediate supervisor. Hence her ham-fisted attempt at claiming sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Mr Y: This irritating young man is the most tactless individual I have ever met. I wonder why he always wears the same neck tie to the office every day.

    Mrs Z: Highly manipulative, this woman enjoys being the centre of attention and that is why she has steadfastly rejected every attempt to reconcile her...

    And there my notes abruptly ended. The reason for that is that somewhere in the middle of our Tuesday morning meeting I had realised with growing consternation that I was battling unusually strong headwinds over the English Channel. I began to make hurried calculations on the left hand side of my notepad, whilst nodding my head vigorously in response to Mrs Z's incessant whining. I calculated that if the headwinds continued at their present rate, my 777 would never make it to Geneva. Looking directly at Mrs Z, I surreptitiously reached under the desk to retrieve the approach charts for my alternative destination, Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. I glanced down at the chart and with my mouse hand, began to re-tune the VOR 2 to the Paris frequency but the VOR needle failed to activate. Had I read the wrong frequency? My face must have momentarily betrayed my concern because I suddenly became aware of a deafening silence in the room. I looked up to see Mrs Z's look of annoyance. I had tuned out the last thing she had said, but I cupped my chin in my hand to make it look as though I was thinking over her problem.

    I looked back at her, faking the appearance of genuine concern for her predicament. I had a pressing need to get her out of my office immediately, so that I could concentrate on diverting my simulated flight to Paris. So I sat back in my chair and played my trump card.

    'Well there are certainly some issues to be addressed here. Yours is a special case so to be honest, I really need to refer this to the Chairman of the Executive Committee before I can advise you further.'

    She could barely contain her look of delight as the impact of the phrase "special case" began to infiltrate every fibre of her self-obsessed being. I pencilled in her next meeting for the following Friday, ushered her out into the corridor and stepped briskly back to my desk. I pulled the joystick back onto the desk-top and turned on the speakers. I immediately set about cancelling my IFR route to Geneva. I re-checked the VOR frequency for CGN and changed course but then the phone rang. My secretary knew better than to ring through to my office before lunchtime unless it was an emergency. I pressed "Q" on the keyboard to silence the simulator sound and picked up the receiver.


    'Sorry to disturb you Richard, but Laura's on the line.

    'Laura who?'

    'Laura, your wife; and she says it's urgent'.

    At that moment, the VOR needle on the 777's instrument panel sprang into life and I saw that the DME was measuring 95 miles. This was going to have to be a steep descent into Paris. I re-set the speed and altitude on the autopilot to slow the giant aircraft for a descent to 11,000 feet. As soon the plane began to descend I knew I would have to use the spoilers to slow it down.



    As my wife began to speak excitedly to me about something-or-the-other, I looked up the ATIS frequency for Charles De Gaulle and set the standby frequency on the communications radio. I needed to get her off the phone by the time I was 60 DME from the airport so that I could listen to the airport broadcast and discover which runway was active. I became aware of a sudden silence on the phone and then...

    'Richard, did you hear anything I just said?'


    'You sound distracted. You're not flight-simming on your office computer are you?

    'Of course not sweetie, what do you take me for?'

    I wondered how on earth she knew what I was doing? How do wives always know what their husbands are up to? Keeping one eye on the instrument panel, I forced myself to listen to her finish telling me of her plans for the next few days. In spite of the fact that my real focus was on the far more important task of landing my giant Boeing airliner at Paris, I was able to determine that what she was telling me was not good news.

    To be continued...

    Richard Burgess a.k.a. Bill Smith
    [email protected]

    Part 2
    Part 3

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