PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


The most astonishing thing about Flight Simulator is its depth. Just when you think you've plumbed everything it has to offer, you discover a whole other layer of complexity and are plunged back into the learning curve. Beyond mastering the art of flying, for example, there is at least as much to be learned about the science of navigation: reading charts, filing flight plans, deciphering cryptic radio beacons, following directions from the air traffic controllers along your route, etc.

Flight Simulator incorporates the most advanced avionics this side of Patuxent Naval Air Station, with computer-perfect nav-aids that any four-year-old (with an advanced degree in electrical engineering) could learn to operate. Fortunately, you don't have to, unless you want to. Throughout, you can either immerse yourself in obscure detail or skip it if you don't want to be bothered, or promise yourself you'll go back and learn it later. But if you just root around, pausing to explore only the stuff that interests you, eventually you'll learn everything you "ought" to know.

Of the four aircraft that come with the program, I'd suggest you start with the Cessna 182RG Skylane, a typical light plane: 36-foot wingspan, 13,600-foot ceiling, 184-mph top speed (more importantly: 58-mph stall speed), and a 130-horsepower Lycoming engine.

There is also a Learjet, a one-time Scandinavian military transport that has been extensively reworked to serve in the "business jet" role. It can cruise at 481 miles per hour at 41,000 feet, which sounds a lot more exciting than the Cessna, but as with seamanship, you learn a lot more about control with a small, low-powered craft than you do from larking about in a high-powered speedster.

The other two choices are a Sopwith Camel, apparently a leftover from the days when earlier releases of Flight Simulator had a "World War I Ace" game (now gone); it takes to the air eagerly, but once aloft is tricky to fly; and a Schweizer 2-32 sailplane, with a diametrically opposed flight envelope: easy to fly, but (with no motor) tricky to keep aloft.

If there is one telling criticism of Flight Simulator (and its close relative, Air Transport Pilot; see Chapter Thirteen), it is that it still has what is undoubtedly the most obtuse, cranky, least-intuitive interface anybody has ever wrestled with. Its controls are neither wholly mnemonic nor logical. Example: pressing "H" can either de-ice the carburetor or deploy speed flaps to check your plane's speed. Huh? And there's still no "Help" key, either.

Let's look at this quintessential program in more detail.

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