Learning to Fly with Flight Simulator

by John Rafferty


I was introduced to SubLOGIC's Flight Simulator II more or less against my will, for it was my son—not I—who initially chose the program.

Not that I had anything against SubLOGIC, or against flying. I'd never even heard of SubLOGIC at the time, and, as for flying…well, then as now, I just loved it. My first professional experience with planes was as an FAA-licensed aircraft mechanic, and I made my first solo flight over 30 years ago. I hold an instrument rating, and I've flown single-engine airplanes the entire length and width of the United States—so it was hardly aviation per se that I was opposed to.

Rather, I'd heard that Flight Simulator II wasn't just another computer, but rather a real-life simulation. I therefore suspected that the program would be difficult to use, especially for my son, a young teenager, who was just getting started with his first computer. Convinced that I was right, I argued persistently for several weeks in the effort to get that point across. It's an expensive package, I explained, so let's divert those funds to something you'll really enjoy.

But it was to no avail. We finally ended up spending the money—to prove, of course, that I was right—which of course I was, for just a day or so later the Flight Simulator II disk was out of use.

Then, in a moment of weakness, I tried the program and was totally stunned by what I found. The simulated airplane was really well equipped, and the panel just glittered with electronic goodies. It had all the neat avionics equipment you'd find in the most expensive single-engine airplane; in fact it had most of what you'd find in a commercial jet. Could all this stuff actually work? And work realistically?

My flight bag was soon out of the closet; I spread my aeronautical charts and approach plates out before me, and, from that point on, my joy and amazement kept climbing to new and unexpected heights.

The airplane felt pretty testy at first, to tell you the unvarnished truth. Takeoffs and landings were tricky, and I crashed more times than I care to admit; I even found it difficult to establish straight-and-level flight. But before too long I stumbled on the trick: If I simply handled the simulator as I would an airplane in actual flight—surprise—it handled like a dream.

Even better, everything else about the program was just as realistic—more realistic than I could ever have hoped. The miniature world that Bruce Artwick had put inside the computer was an unbelievably accurate replica of the real world over which I had so often flown.

Why Bother Driving to the Airport?

I found that the runways and taxi strips were laid out in the program exactly as they are in the real world. I found I could use official aeronautical charts to navigate accurately from place to place and that I could tune the navigational (NAV) radios and the automatic direction finder in the cockpit to the very same beacons and transmitters on the ground that I'd used on actual flights, using the same frequencies, and with the very same results. I could even use my government-published charts to execute the authorized instrument approaches to specific airport runways.

The battle for time on my son's computer was on, and whenever he wasn't home I'd be in his room with a flight plan on my lap as I soared above the clouds, switching frequencies, scanning the needles, scratching out a dead-reckoning estimate from time to time as I cruised en route to some familiar (or sometimes not-so-familiar) airport. The simulator was an absolute joy, and it didn't use a single drop of avgas.

I've always found flying—especially instrument flying—to be the most satisfying and exhilarating of experiences (at least when you do it right). But the pleasures and excitement of truly realistic flight have only been available to few of us—at least until now. Now it seems that almost everyone has a computer, and, with Flight Simulator and Flight Simulator II, the world of flying is open to those who want to try it.

This was just too marvelous to hide. I thought of the scores of computerists like my son—those who had tried Flight Simulator II only to set it aside before even scratching the surface of its true potential—and my course was set. The joy and satisfaction of truly realistic flying was something I simply had to share.

The result, of course, is the present book; I sincerely hope you'll enjoy it.

John Rafferty

Phoenix, 1986

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