PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


First, the default location places you smack-dab in the middle of downtown Chicago (making it easy for folks from the Windy City to get oriented), on funky little Meigs Field, an anachronism that sits just a few yards from towering skyscrapers (including the world's tallest, the Sears Tower) on a little peninsula of its own jutting out into Lake Michigan.

How tough is it to learn to fly? Easy—just reach out, hit "F4" (the function key that gives you instant full-throttle), and sit back. Once the Cessna gets up to about 70 knots (airspeed is measured in knots; one knot equals 1.15 miles per hour), about two-thirds of the way down the due-north Runway 36, it just kind of floats up into the air. Theoretically, you're supposed to help by pulling back the stick and "rotating" the aircraft into the sky, but if you do nothing but hit "F4," it'll fly.

Next, hit "G" for "Gear" and a little icon on the instrument panel tells you your wheels are up. How are you doing so far? Hit "S" a couple of times here and you'll get an external view showing your wheels retracting into the fuselage. Now the only thing you have to do is keep from stalling or crashing by pushing the stick forward or pulling it back. Gently. Aim at the horizon.

Congratulations, you're flying.

The instant you get brave, you'll want to roll the plane to the left to go check out the bulky Sears Tower. Uh-oh! Watch out, Mr. Wood B. Pilot…kee-RASH! Next time, pay attention to the stall indicator Klaxon: if you start to stall, quickly apply full rudder and push the stick all the way forward. Then apply full throttle. Now pull the stick back. Easy. Oh no! Well, too bad.

When the worst happens, all of a sudden you find yourself back at the head of Runway 36, Meigs Field, Chicago, with the engine running and traffic backing up behind you, waiting for you to take off. What is this, "Twilight Zone"? No, just the automatic "Reset" feature, like a bowling alley. You're back to Square One.

Eventually, you learn to gain altitude, wobble all the way around the Sears Tower, and find yourself approaching Meigs Field again. Only now you're 1,500 feet up in the air. (Actually, this isn't as acrophobic as it sounds; Meigs itself is 592 feet above sea level.)

Then you come face-to-face with the most difficult part of desktop…or real…flying. Getting back down. In one piece.

Let's face it—if you can't make it here, you'd better keep your day job.

Landing can be very Zen: it lands me. But control freaks see it as a cone of attention—intensity, focus—with the pointy end poised at the moment of touchdown. You've got to get your ducks in a row from quite far away—the bigger the plane, from farther and farther out.

Even when you think your run-up was perfect, you'll realize you're coming in too hot, or nose-high on the back side of the power curve, or skating off the end of the runway, or, if you're aiming for the deck of an aircraft carrier, over the edge and into the sea.

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