A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick

A Fair Approach

Chart: Seattle
En Route Coordinates:
   Aircraft: N21426, E6589
   Tower: N21372.019, E6595.9321
   Aircraft: 1500
   Tower: 15
Heading: 129
Time: Dusk (19:01)

Read before you unpause:

The Seattle area is easily the most beautiful of the four original simulator areas. I suspect it was the last to be digitized, because its areas of light and dark landscape and the extraordinary detailing of Puget Sound and Lake Washington are without rival until we get to the San Francisco Bay area and the scenery disks. Out your left windows you'll see some of the Cascade Range. It's those mountains that confine the mostly-winter rains to the Puget Sound area, making it so green and so island-laced. It's easy to understand why one in every four families in Seattle owns a boat.

Ice-capped Mount Rainier is on the horizon. A sleeping volcano, it rises 14,410 feet into--and is often shrouded in the clouds. The nation's first Mt. Everest team trained on its glacial heights. Campers and backpackers are seen on the 90-mile Wonderland Trail that encircles Mount Rainier National Park, at the foot of the mountain. (Were you to fly to the other side of the simulated mountain, you'd discover a curious fact or two. Try it sometime.)

Now unpause and watch that vertical something on the shore of Puget Sound. For about ten seconds, nothing will happen. But when you've about decided it's simply a vertical line, it will blossom into three dimensions, and you'll be viewing the Space Needle at Seattle Center. Symbol of the 1962 World's Fair here, it's an observation tower crowned with a revolving restaurant--an idea that has spawned many imitations ever since. Watch it pass by out the left side.

After you've passed the Space Needle, continue toward what looks like an airport shaping up on this side of Interstate 5. It's Boeing Field, also known as King County International, and you're on a long final to its Runway 13. Actually the field has parallel strips, but you're interested in 13 Left, the one that will eventually turn out to have a centerline (neither one, in the simulation, is paved; both are simply outlines on the grass). This is one of the most confusing airports to approach in the simulator world (and that's saying something). You'll see what I mean when you're closer in. The whole area suddenly opens up like a late-blooming flower, giving no clue as to where the runways are. But persevere in your heading until you see a real centerline. That's your runway.

Airport elevation is 437 feet.

A word about simulated airports that are, like this one in Seattle, just outlines on the grass . . . and also about some other problems in Flight Simulator.

It's no wonder simulator pilots complain about the difficulties of making decent landings. If all airports were like this one in Seattle, we could chalk it up to some difficulty or problem in digitizing solid runways. But for some strange reason, while many of the largest airports are, incomprehensibly, fields of grass, most little airports (and some big ones), are beautifully paved and marked off, and thus readily discernible from the air. In New York, big La Guardia is paved, and its runways are visible from miles out, while big JFK is just a confusing scrawl of lines at any and all distances. In the Amiga version, at least, the whole Boston area, including Logan International, is a pale blue monstrosity (not paved, not grass, but a sickly blue for miles) as if someone spilled a pail of paint over it--an impossible place to think of flying to or from once you've seen it. In Chicago, the big airports--Midway and O'Hare--are like JFK. Why isn't it possible to pave the runways, and let the taxiways and other area out-lines simply be outlines? It's the runways we need to see from the air, and yet there are some airports (we'll visit some in this book) that are models of definition, where both runways and taxiways--and ramps too--are paved. They're easy to taxi around on, realistic, and readily picked out from the air. It can be done, so why not do it?

I admire the amazing achievements of Flight Simulator more than anything else in the microcomputer world. But that doesn't keep me from wondering about some of the notorious lapses of judgment and irritating bugs that beset it, and us who love to fly it. Here's just a cursory sampling, Amiga version, and in parentheses some possible though perhaps too pat suggestions for correcting them:

I'll stop (for now) at the magic number of 13. But I must add that, despite all these complaints, if I were somehow deprived of Flight Simulator I really don't know how I'd face the world.

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