The snow was blowing pretty hard. I could barely see the end of runway 35. I had never flown out of Aspen and these weren’t the best conditions for my first lesson. Ehh, what the heck, I am paying for the experience so I might as well go for it. I pushed the Arrow to full power and eventually lifted off the runway.
The effects of flying from a high altitude strip were much more dramatic than I had expected. Climbing to clear the mountains was taking much longer than I anticipated. The weather was getting worse and I was way out of my comfort zone. The flight was quickly going bad so I had my instructor in the right seat give me vectors for the Aspen ILS.
I tried to follow the vectors, but had to change my route because of terrain. I just couldn’t seem to gain the altitude I needed to clear the mountains. I was obviously unprepared for this type of flying.
The funny thing about my Aspen experience was that I wasn’t the least bit nervous. Not because I had Todd, my trusty CFI, sitting next to me, but rather because the entire experience was in a flight simulator.
Located at Ellington Field, just South of Houston, AV Flight Simulation operates a Redbird flight simulator capable of simulating a Cessna 172 G1000, Piper PA28 with a Garmin 530/430, and a Beechcraft Baron with a 530/430. The simulator can be configured to fly these planes into and out of any airport in the continental United States. Being that almost all of my takeoffs and landings have been from sea level airports in and around the Houston area, the simulator was a great way to get a taste of high altitude flying. Not only was I able to experience the effects high altitude has on an aircraft but I was also able to experience flying in varying degrees of snowfall. Living in the Houston area I have not had such a cold weather opportunity.
If you have read my Air Facts article Why Do We Do It, you know that I have a propensity for motion sickness. My previous simulator experience was limited to a PC-based simulator program which had no effect on my inner ear at all so I was anxious to see if flying in the Redbird sim had any kind of negative effect.
After about 45 minutes of flying through the snow and shooting instrument approaches, I could feel the beginning effects of motion sickness. This is typically the point where I head back to the airport and hope I touch terra firma before the inevitable happens.
Just as I was feeling a bit sick, the most amazing thing happened. My CFI hit the pause button. I stepped out of the simulator and quickly recovered. Yes! Stopping mid flight was such a treat.
After my session, I spent some time talking with the owner of the simulator, Kevin Gabriel, and he told me I could easily turn off the simulator’s motion. Doing so would greatly reduce the chances of my getting motion sick. Motionless training would be a great way for me to focus on aspects of flying that can be difficult to do in an actual airplane. I am anxious to schedule a “motionless” session so that I can focus on learning more about instrument flying.
You do not have to poke around the aviation message boards for long before you find heated debates on the usefulness of simulator training. Both sides of the argument have valid points on when and how a simulator should be used. Regardless of your views on the training aspects of simulators, if you have an opportunity to fly a sim, I encourage you to do so. After all, it’s flying, right? Well, sort of anyway. And don’t you like to fly?
Like most pilots, I have a passion for aviation and will not pass up an opportunity to do something aviation related. When the new simulator came to my part of town, there was no way I was not going to give this experience a shot. My objective was not to flight train per se but rather to take a few chances that I would never take in a real airplane.
I was able to do just that with the Aspen trip and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I don’t think my 45 minutes of simulator experience greatly enhanced or sharpened my mountain flying skills, but it was a great way to experience different flying conditions while being safely planted on the ground.
I love aviation and all things aviation related. Flying the simulator was another way to get my aviation fix and I am sure that it won’t take long before I schedule another session. After all, how else can I fly below the rim of the Grand Canyon, shoot the ILS for Van Nuys’ 16 Right, and land in blizzard conditions at North America’s highest airport (Lake County, Colorado) all for less than the cost of 1 hour of Hobbs time on the Piper Warrior?