A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick

Appendix A

Basic Flying Guide

Your primary Flight Simulator instruments are the three round instruments along the top left of your instrument panel. By using just those instruments you can control your airplane knowledgeably and precisely--in overcast, in pitch blackness, or in bright daylight.

In all versions of the program these instruments are, reading left to right, the airspeed indicator, the artificial horizon, and the altimeter.

The airspeed indicator tells you your rate of speed through the air in KIAS (Knots Indicated AirSpeed), via a system that measures the pressure of the relative wind against your wings.

The artificial horizon depicts your aircraft's attitude in relation to the earth's horizon. Your wings are represented by the two longer lines at the center of the instrument, the dot between them symbolizing the aircraft's nose. In no or poor visibility, the artificial horizon is like a miniature representation of what you would see out the windshield if you could see earth and sky. It operates on the gyroscopic principle, and is sometimes called the gyro horizon.

The altimeter tells you your MSL (Mean Sea Level) altitude, your altitude above sea level, not AGL (Above Ground Level) altitude. The altimeter works by reading atmospheric pressure, which decreases as altitude increases and vice versa.

In straight and level flight, these three instruments will be virtually steady because your airspeed will be virtually constant, the aircraft's wings and nose will be aligned with the horizon (real or artificial), and you will neither be gaining nor losing altitude.

Airspeed Variations

Your airspeed indicator should vary little in the course of a well-executed flight, unless and until you change it by trimming your elevator up to a higher position or down to a lower position.

The functions of throttle and elevator must be well understood. Increasing your throttle setting does not make the airplane fly faster, and decreasing it does not make the air-plane fly slower. Further, we do not make a practice of climbing by application of up elevator, nor of descending by application of down elevator.

The throttle is your altitude control. If you want to climb, increase your throttle setting a few notches; if you want to descend, decrease it. If you want to make the airplane stay at a given altitude, but it's climbing or descending slightly, counteract that tendency with small throttle adjustments. Altitude slipping down? Add a notch of power. Gaining altitude slightly? Take off a notch of power.

Elevator is essentially your airspeed control. A high elevator setting (elevator way up) will result in a slow airplane. Lower settings (settings closer to straight or neutral) will result in increasingly higher airspeeds (see "Controlling Airspeed" in Chapter 1). A straight or neutral elevator will, at normal cruising altitudes, yield maximum cruise speed. An elevator setting below neutral will pitch the nose of the aircraft down, and will only be used deliberately and briefly if at all (to recover from a stall, or to pick up speed for a steep climb as in stunting, for example). In order to fly level, neither climbing nor descending, the higher your elevator setting the less power you'll require, whereas elevator settings closer to neutral call for more power.

A light plane can be successfully taken off, flown, and landed without touching the elevator. You should try this be-cause it will prove to you once and for all that throttle controls your altitude. Here's a way to do it:

Flying without Elevator

Set your elevator so the elevator position indicator is about three-quarters of the way up the gauge. Apply full power, and let the airplane take itself off and climb (leave the gear down). As it climbs, gradually reduce power while watching the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator), which tells you your rate of climb in hundreds of feet per minute (FPM). Stop reducing power when you are climbing at 500 FPM (a standard climb rate). Note your airspeed (it will be relatively low due to your high elevator setting).

Climb to about 1000 feet, then further reduce power until the VSI shows a zero rate-of-climb. Adjust power up or down a notch as needed to keep the VSI needle at 0 (always give the airplane a little time to react to new power settings). With VSI 0, you'll be flying straight and level. Note your relatively low rpm reading, and that your airspeed is virtually the same as it was when you were climbing. This is cruise configuration for your particular elevator setting.

Adjust power to increase rpm by about 200, and again pay attention to your VSI. The airplane climbs.

Reduce power by about 200 rpm. The airplane again flies straight and level, but at the new altitude. Throttle is your altitude control. (If your new altitude is significantly higher than your original altitude, it will take a bit more power to fly level; adjust throttle accordingly.)

Now use aileron or rudder to turn the aircraft toward any likely landing area--anywhere there's grass and no obstruction. (If you are new to the simulator, first pause and read "Making Turns" below.)

Reduce power gradually until the VSI shows you .are descending at about 500 FPM. This is the standard descent rate. With your high elevator setting, your glide is virtually flat and you can let the airplane land itself exactly as it's con-figured now. It won't even bounce. To stretch the glide, land further ahead. You can add a little power and the rate of de-scent will lessen. You could also back off your power completely, to idle, and the airplane will land safely. Note that your airspeed will remain virtually constant in any and all of these configurations. And you haven't touched your elevator at any time in the flight. Thus it is evident that, just as throttle is your altitude control, elevator is your airspeed control. Now you know it.

Making Turns

I recommend using the keyboard yoke, in preference to joys-tick or mouse, when that's possible (it isn't in the Macintosh version). I also recommend disabling auto-coordination, which will give you rudder control independent of aileron.

Your aileron is controlled by three keys (see your manual). They permit you to apply left or right aileron, and to center or neutralize aileron. Rudder (left and right) is con-trolled by two additional keys. On the ground, the rudder keys steer the nosewheel. The same key that centers aileron centers your rudder.

On the ground, use your rudder to steer, centering the nosewheel when you're pointed where you want to go.

In the air, rudder is valuable for "yawing" the aircraft (rotating it on its vertical axis; also called the yaw axis) to a slightly different heading. As a general rule, use a few strokes of rudder for a heading change of 30 degrees or less. On landing approaches, rudder will help you line up more precisely.

Ailerons are used to bank the aircraft in the direction you wish to turn. The steeper the bank, the faster the turn. You control the steepness of the bank by arresting it with the centering or neutralizing key. The sequence for, say, a left turn, is left aileron, bank to desired angle, neutralize. Then, to roll out of the left turn, right aileron, wait for wings almost level, neutralize. If the wings are not then level, get them level using small increments of aileron in the same manner.

Uncompensated banks and turns--steep ones in particular--result in a loss of altitude. The steeper the turn the more altitude loss. To prevent this, compensate for the loss of lift by adding a little up elevator before starting the turn (or even during it). As you level the wings, return the elevator to its prior position. Adding power before the turn will yield much the same result, but is usually the technique of choice for exceedingly steep turns (they may require elevator back pressure as well as higher power).

The Purposes of Flaps

Flaps are airfoils on the trailing edge of the wing. In normal flight they are at 0, and act simply as part of the wing. When extended the minimum (10 degrees) for takeoff, they increase the aircraft's lift-to-drag ratio and thus shorten the takeoff run (zero them when airborne). In flight, flaps can be used to further slow down an already slow airplane (do not apply them when in maximum cruise configuration, as the relative wind could tear them off) by increasing drag and at the same time lowering the speed at which the aircraft will stall. Finally, on landing, flaps permit a steeper angle of descent with-out undue increase in airspeed, and a landing at lower air-speed. Pilots frequently extend them all the way when on final approach to a runway.

The Effects of Altitude

Higher altitudes call for higher power settings (rpms), in order to deal with increasingly thinner air--the propeller has less to bite into. Thus a power setting that finds you straight and level at, say, 1500 feet will find you descending if you're at 4500 feet. You'll need more power up there; but at the same time your airspeed will be higher. At very high altitudes, all the power you have may not be enough. When that's the case, use a higher elevator setting (spare your engine by setting your elevator high enough to fly level with something less than full power).

At very low altitudes, the reverse is the case--you'll need a lower power setting to fly level at 500 feet than at 2000 feet, and your airspeed will be lower at the lower altitude.

Runway Numbers

Runways are numbered from 01 to 36, and describe the approximate magnetic bearing of the runway to the nearest 10 degrees, with the final 0 dropped. Thus Runway 01 can be expected to bear 010 degrees or close to that, Runway 10 to bear 100 degrees or close, and Runway 36 to bear 360 degrees (equivalent to 000) or within a few degrees of that heading.

A full description of a given strip thus involves two numbers, each being the reciprocal of the other, such as Runway 06/24. Landing on 06 (which bears approximately 060 degrees), your landing is to the northeast, and landing on 24 (bearing approximately 240) it's to the southwest.

Using the OMNI

You can navigate to and from virtually everywhere in the simulator world by flying the VOR (Very high frequency Omnidirectional Range) radials. These are magnetic course radials that extend in all directions from the VOR stations that are shown, surrounded by compass roses, on your chart. The radials can be visualized as spokes of a wheel, all of which converge at a hub--the VOR station.

In the simplest case, you tune (on your NAV1 radio) the frequency of the station toward which you wish to fly. You then center the CDI (Course Deviation Indicator) or needle on your OBI (Omni-Bearing Indicator) with a TO reading, and the most direct heading to the station can be read at the top of the instrument, while your DME will tell you your distance from the station. You then turn the aircraft to that heading and proceed to fly the needle--which means keep the CDI (needle) centered at all times. If the CDI moves to the left of center, you correct a bit to the left until the needle is again at center. You then resume the heading that agrees with the radial. Keeping the needle centered may require a consistent heading that's a few degrees different than the radial number. You accept that (it's due to wind direction and other factors), and persist in keeping the needle centered.

Close to the station, the needle will deviate considerably and its movements should be disregarded. If the VOR station is on your destination airport, flying the needle will take you straight to that airport. If it's at an intermediate location, as when you're flying by means of more than one station, tune the next station as soon as you think you may be in range of it, and again center the CDI and fly the needle to the new station. If your final VOR station is not directly on an airport, fly the needle and watch for your airport where you expect to see it relative to the position of the station.

Often you can plan your flight to track a radial that agrees with the runway on which you intend to land, thus giving yourself a handy straight-in approach.

Landing Tips

Everyone who flies Flight Simulator--including commercial air-line pilots when they first encounter it--has difficulty landing well, due largely to the absence of vertical and/or dimensional references, the absence of natural, real-world peripheral vision, and the impossibility of judging one's height over the ground (and over the runway itself) during the final approach. Only much practice will lessen the landing difficulty, and no landing will ever be routine.

But the following techniques can help you improve your landings early in the game:

  1. Slow the airplane down (in the case of propeller-driven aircraft, to something between 60-80 knots). It is far easier to land a slow airplane than a fast one.
  2. Give yourself some distance. Plan your flight as you near the airport, to allow yourself a reasonably long final approach. That gives you time to recognize the lie of the active runway, and to make alignment corrections early on. If you're flying a pattern, extend the downwind leg, which results in a wide base leg, and a longer final.
  3. Adjust power and control surfaces (ailerons, rudder, elevator, flaps) to get and keep the runway threshold straight ahead and, most importantly, steady at a point just a little below the center of your windshield. Power is the key here (along with flaps as desired to steepen your descent). If the runway threshold is above the visual center of your wind-shield, you are undershooting, such that if you continue with-out correction you will land short of the threshold. If the threshold is well below the center of your windshield, you are likely overshooting, and will land too far up the runway (or beyond the end of it). Remember that if something is unmoving on your windshield, you are headed straight for it. That's why you want to keep the runway threshold as motionless as possible while you descend. If it moves up the windshield, add power and/or a notch of up elevator to reduce your rate of descent. If it moves down your windshield, reduce power, put on some flaps or more rarely, add a notch of down elevator to increase your rate of descent.

The final stages of the normal landing (not all landings are normal) involve three actions:

  1. Flattening the glide by means of up elevator, which further slows the airplane; done while you still have 50-100 feet to descend, depending on your relationship to the in-tended landing point.
  2. Flaring (pitching the nose of the aircraft up) a few feet above the runway, which typically involves two quick notches of up elevator.
  3. Continuing back pressure (deliberate slow notches of up elevator) until the wheels touch down. This action keeps the nose high, and in a good landing your aircraft will virtu-ally stall at the moment of touchdown. (Should you get a stall warning before the wheels touch, use a notch of down elevator to counteract it.)

For more comprehensive study of VOR navigation, and other aspects of flight, see the author's Flight Simulator Co-pilot or, for the 68000 computers, Flying Flight Simulator, both from Microsoft Press.

40 Great Flight Simulator Adventures and 40 More Great Flight Simulator Adventures (both from COMPUTE! Books) and Runway USA (Microsoft Press, contents specific to the early Scenery Disks, 1-6) offer additional flight instruction and experience. Note that only Flying Flight Simulator is specific (in terms of instructional content) to the 68000 versions but, if you know how to fly, some scenarios in all books can be enjoyed regard-less of simulator version. Runway USA, for example, features numerous flights in the San Francisco Bay area.

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