Pretending to Fly: Moments in X-Plane
I wish that I could fly
Into the sky
So very high
Just like a dragonfly
I’d fly above the trees
Over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please
Oh I want to get away. I want to fly away. Yeah yeah yeah.
I hate Lenny Kravitz, but the man and I share similar desires. In his famous song “Fly Away”, Kravitz sings about the joy of booting up a flight simulator on his homemade gaming rig. He draws his custom-configured flight yolk close to his heart, calibrates his rudder pedals, and gets ready to “fly away” into the virtual sky.
While the rocker is a millionaire who can afford multiple screens and high-grade Thrustmaster accessories, I’m stuck taking to the air in my three year old 12″ PowerBook. Joystickless.
Luckily, the demo of X-Plane by Austin Myer still runs decently if I decrease all the settings. It still looks okay, but it’s not the photo-real and smooth experience as it would be on a better machine.
X-Plane is an amazing program. Not only is there an FAA certified version, but the full version contains the geography of the entire world, complete with cities and accurately modeled airports. The scenery alone takes up 60GB. The demo features a limited patch of terrain and a variety of real aircraft from general aviation and heavy metal to jets and spacecraft. Unlike Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series, X-Plane actually simulates all the physics of flight on the structure of the airplane model. This means that if the airfoils are accurate, the planes in the simulator behave as they would in reality. Every real world detail can be configured in a myriad of complicated menus: weather and environmental variables, fuel and cargo loads, flight paths, equipment failures, airplane livery. It’s mind boggling.
Even more mind boggling are the recreated cockpits of the planes. Every gauge and toggle of the actual planes are recreated. Many of the planes have 3-d rendered cockpits in order to see all the functional controls.
I know nothing about flying planes, but I’m learning. I’ve gotten pretty good at the takeoff procedures but still suck at smooth landings. I can see why they have you buckle your seat-belts at these times: the maneuvers are hard!
Keeping it simple with a turbo prop Piper. Some of the cockpit on the left. Plane getting ready for takeoff on the right.
After a successful flight, I pulled the plane into the terminal.
3-d cockpit view of a fancier private jet. It was faster than the Piper and harder to control.
Looking back after takeoff.
After getting better at the basic planes, I loaded a United 747 to test. After some successful takeoffs, I decided to go an early morning flight…in a rain storm.
Waiting for clearance from the tower.
The 747 cockpit in the early morning.
I was getting scared in the morning rain, so I bumped the time forward a bit. Here’s the bird after takeoff. The landing gear are retracting.
The plane in the morning fog after a successful, but bumpy, landing. The plane as seen from above.
Trying out the high tech avionics of an Airbus passenger jet.
I’m surprised by how much joy I feel when the plane finally takes off after a roaring ride down the runway. It is fun to flip the seat-belt warning button to get that distinctive chime. And the retracting flaps and landing gear sound eerily realistic. It feels horrible to crash in this game, but so good to clear the clouds and see the vastness of virtual world.