vineri, 6 iulie 2012

A wing and no prayer

For over half my life I've been a Microsoft Flight Simulator pilot. After taking off from the chalk-on-grass airport runways of version 4.0, my virtual wings have flown me through to FS 2004, with its ATC chatter and AI aircraft. (My current spec would baulk at FSX). Because it's a simulation rather than a game, and there aren't any guns, missiles or bombs, the goal of FS is whatever the user wants it to be. For some it will be crazy jumbo jet aerobatics. For others it will be perfectly recreating their last holiday flight to Tenerife. For most people, horrible crashes and belly landings are inevitable. And sometimes, things aren't all that realistic.

This afternoon, for example, I flew a 737 from Exeter to Salzburg. Having visited the real Salzburg, I knew about the spectacular mountains, but didn't bother checking the approach charts. ATC cleared me for a straight-in visual approach to runway 34. It was dusk and I was not 'visual' with the surrounding terrain, but all seemed well as the runway lights appeared at 8 miles out and landing clearance was granted. There was a slight problem: the plane was 9,000 feet above the field after clearing the mountains and was now way too high. Solution? Close the throttle, deploy the spoilers and sink like a stone until I'm safely bouncing along the tarmac. In reality, straight-in approaches to runway 34 would be too dangerous and instead aircraft have to circle and land. Still, at least the virtual captain and passengers walked away.

Sometimes they don't. One time, a jet under my command was accelerating rather sluggishly down the shorter runway at Stockholm Skavsta. With no room to abort, I pulled the plane into the air at under 140 knots. It rose a few feet, stalled, then crashed into a forest on the airfield boundary. The problem? I'd forgotten to retract the spoilers after the previous landing. Doh!

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