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Here’s the strengths I really didn’t know I had, having long taken them for granted:

The theory of the fundamentals of flight were all well understood; no time was wasted explaining what the control surfaces did, what angle of attack was, the mysteries of slip, slide, adverse yaw just weren’t mysteries at all. I knew what a coordinated turn was and how to make it happen (doing it, though, is a different matter, just as it is for me in flight sims).

The language of flight was already ingrained. Crosswind, Vne, stall, downwind leg, base, final approach, vector, etc., needed no definition.

Instruments on the panel were well understood in both function and how to read them.

A light hand on the controls, learned the hard way from missing shots due to being ham handed and tight fisted, really paid off and was one of the first positive comments I got from both instructors.

Automatic coordination of controls is, well, automatic. While every aircraft has a slightly different feel and amount of rudder to aileron required (or at least the Cessna and the CTLS do), I was working both together from the start.

Sight lines and visual cues were a given. Literally years of looking out over a virtual cockpit a different angles really paid off. I definitely didn’t need a turn and bank indicator to tell me what a thirty or forty degree turn looked like (but I peeked anyway). Climb and descent angles as calibrated to the nose of each aircraft was pretty quick.

Reaction to turbulence was reflexive. Thank you, Rise of Flight, for those horrible rainstorm missions in the Nieuport 17. I cursed you the whole way, but in the rolling air of an afternoon Alabama sky in July it paid off — I wasn’t shaken by it and neither over reacted or let it bully me.

The weaknesses of simulations versus Real Life:

Sense of motion really is a big deal. I got caught looking by the sensation of acceleration in the CTLS on takeoff, and one has to feel 2g in a tight turn in order to appreciate it. Hitting a spot of “dead air” and having the bottom fall out for 100 feet of altitude is disconcerting. However, it also made things easier — I could feel the slip or slide and make minor adjustments with the rudder, and airspeed by sound and vibration.

Checklists and starting up. Sheesh, where is the “I” key, and can’t I just press LWin+Home? While neither plane I flew had anything close to DCS: Black Shark, there are steps one must follow.

Airport procedures have to be followed. This is the deep well of my ignorance, as in flight sims (except MSFS) we just don’t do them. Takeoff on the taxiway, land on the runway (if you’re being polite). Airspace matters, and you have to be aware of where you are and what you’re doing. Right hand pattern going one way, left hand going the other at one of our airports is a good example of having to know stuff. Radio? Classes of airspace? What part of “machine gun” do you not understand?

Landings are a lot scarier. Okay, I stink at landings in flight sims so no shocker there, but that ground sure does look hard and I didn’t see a “Refly” button anywhere in the cockpit. Plus the whole “line up five miles out at five hundred feet straight on and float to the runway and over two thirds of it before finally settling down” stuff is null and void. Steep glides to the numbers at just above (or at) idle to help survivability in the case of losing the engine are the order of the day, and it is disconcerting. Plus if you bend it, you buy it.

Flight Sim to Flight Line - Not quite the exact same plane, but close enough!
Not quite the exact same plane, but close enough!

Gauges are fascinating. I always prided myself in thinking that I rarely look at instruments in flight sims, keeping my head facing out of the windows. After my first ten minutes in my first lesson the instructor slapped his sectional map over the Cessna’s instruments and told me to knock it off and fly the aircraft, not the panel. It was his shining moment as an instructor, in my opinion. The CTLS has a glass cockpit (which I don’t care for) and it is much easier to limit the amount of time looking at it to quick glances; that and I made a conscious effort not to watch the pretty numbers and needles move around. I was told this is a common pitfall for flight sim types.

Trim and flaps are used. Ugh. I am infamous in my online squadron for NEVER using trim or flaps, preferring to just adjust by hand and not fiddle with it, mostly because I usually forget to pull flaps up or re-adjust the trim. Besides, aren’t I supposed to be piloting rather than just sitting back with my hands just touching the controls?

Other observations:

The graphics of the Real World could use an upgrade. While the cockpits were rendered beautifully, my first flight was set to Summer Haze, reducing the draw distance considerably, desaturating colors, and was generally disappointing in appearance. Objects on the ground tended to “pop up” in clearings of the forest as we approached; in fact the Shelby County Airport itself did this, suddenly appearing as we approached from the west. Today was much better since we had some wind to make things crystal clear and the vibrant greens and browns came out, but the light scattered clouds had an obvious repetitive shape, especially a low layer that looked like the teeth of a saw blade pointed upwards.

Draw distance for other aircraft needs to be improved. While I spotted a helicopter at five miles, it started out as a small black dot above the horizon and was very slow to resolve to a recognizable shape. A white Citation was invisible to both the instructor and me even though we were told where it was until less than a quarter mile away — and it was only 1000 feet lower than us! Something is screwy when you can’t see a white plane over green forests at one o’clock in the afternoon in clear skies.

Flight Modeling is suspect in the Cessna and control response likely wrong in CTLS. To be blunt, the Cessna 172 flies like it is on rails! Just about everything is under done, from adverse yaw to entering and exiting turns. In the CTLS, the elevator response to control input is exaggerated; one need only apply the slightest back pressure to induce noticeable pitch either way, and there is no menu to adjust input curves. While it is much livelier than the Cessna, it remains in many ways much easier to control and keep flying than anything in a combat flight simulation.

So with 4.3 cumulative hours under my belt I can authoritatively state that for me the years of playing in front of a computer gave me a slight edge over someone who didn’t know anything at all about flying at this point in training, and that many of the lessons learned in virtual skies do translate over to the real one in a shockingly good fit.

I can also firmly opine that if it were up to me to land a real aircraft by myself we’d all be better off if I just slowed down to just over stall speed at a thousand feet and popped the emergency chute system.


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