Flying my simulator during quarantine

When I first caught the flying bug, the opportunities I had to be in the air were far and few between. Aside from the occasional airline flight to visit family or the sightseeing flight over Honolulu while on vacation, I was relegated to terra firma. Physically being in the cockpit of an aircraft while flying and being able to manipulate the controls was an even rarer opportunity only made possible by the three Young Eagles flights I had under my belt. As I look back on those early days of my life, it’s hard to believe that I had been able to go so long without flying in an airplane. The only thing that kept me sane was being able to use a tool that many aspiring pilots use to try to scratch the flying itch: a PC-based flight simulator.

Flight simulator system
A home flight simulator is a valuable tool when you’re stuck at home.

With all of California now under a state-wide stay-at-home order (and those in the Bay Area where I live having been on one for two days prior to the state-wide declaration), I have found myself strangely going back to my beginnings. The old Saitek joystick has been busted out, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X has been fired back up on my aging PC. As pattern work or hundred-dollar hamburger trips are not considered essential, flying in the real world is out of the question for at least the next few weeks. So, in an attempt to keep proficiency in procedures—and to keep at least some of my sanity—back to flight simulator it is.

As a 172 pilot, I had been intrigued by A2A Simulations’ Cessna 172R trainer that came out some years ago. The panel offered with the aircraft closely mirrors the early-2000s Cessna 172SP steam gauge panel that I fly at the flying club where I am a member. And A2A, as they always do, took enough care in the development of the model to have avionics and flight characteristics that are accurate enough for me to follow the typical operating procedures I would follow in the real plane. So, with the new circumstances, I decided to finally take the plunge and see if all of the “hype” around A2A’s 172 was justified. After a late-night purchase and a few times around the virtual pattern at my home airport, I decided that if I couldn’t fly up to my favorite $100 hamburger destination of Santa Rosa (KSTS) in real life, then by golly I would do it in a flight simulator!

I took off and did my best to simulate the San Francisco Class B transition that the controllers typically give me on my way up north to STS with ATC communications—or, more accurately, me talking to myself—included. The VOR tracking of the Sausalito (SAU) VOR I had been planning on doing for practice in real life was easily accomplished with A2A’s 172R. After passing SAU and flying over Petaluma, I started my turn inbound and tuned in the ILS 32 into KSTS. After doing my best to fly the ILS inbound (someday I’ll get that instrument rating), I landed on 32, taxied back, reversed my route, and took back off for home. After the familiar overhead entry to the right downwind, I landed back at my home airport, taxied back to the parking spot, and shut down.

While flying a simulator is decidedly less exciting than flying the real thing—especially since I can’t add an entry to my logbook afterward—it gives me the ability to stay brushed up on my procedures and if not satisfy the flying itch, at least pacify it. As much as I wish I could head over to the flying club and go for a flight, I know that the reason I can’t is a good one that will not only benefit me but all of those around me, including the flying club family I have become a part of.

The next month or two will be difficult for the aviation industry, and not just because we pilots can’t go flying. But if there is one certainty about aviation, it’s that it is tough and resilient, just like the people who are a part of it.

In the meantime, those of us who must stay at home will find a way to keep our minds active. Whether it is catching up on those FAA Wings courses we’ve been meaning to do, studying for a knowledge test for that rating or certificate we’ve been meaning to take, flying flight simulator at home, or some combination of these, we’ll do our best to stay sharp so that we can jump back into the cockpit once the all-clear is given.

For those of you who are still up there flying, I wish you blue skies and good health.

For those of you who are on the ground for the next month or two, I’ll wish you blue “virtual” skies and good health. We’ll be back in the air in no time!

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