Drones? Meh.

drones

They go by many names: UAVs, drones, remotely piloted vehicles. Whatever you call ‘em, more and more of the aviation news these days seems to focus on this segment of the industry. Blogs and podcasts exclusively dedicated to UAVs have been popping up left and right, and there’s certainly no shortage of enthusiasts and businesses waiting to put these advanced flying machines to work. Or play.

It’s easy to understand the excitement. These drones are small, relatively inexpensive, easy to fly, and — thus far, at least — free from certification hassles and other regulatory burdens. They require no conventional fuel, maintenance, or infrastructure, yet can carry high-definition cameras and other payloads while exploring areas at low-altitude that even a helicopter would be hard-pressed to get to. They can loiter with less noise and disturbance than a rotorcraft, too. In short, they represent a fresh canvas for the operator’s creativity.

New models and capabilities spawn almost continuously from the designers of these micro-aircraft. It’s something those of us in the traditional aviation sectors wish we could lay claim to. I imagine the early days of the 20th century must have felt quite similar to aviation’s pioneers. The future looked limitless. “Just Do It” could have been aviation’s slogan; if you could dream it, you could build and fly it. Today? Not so much. The regulations and paperwork weigh as much as the pilot flying the darn airplane. If they aren’t, you’re probably not “airworthy”.

Drones, on the other hand? From delivering cold beer or your Amazon order to keeping humans out of harms way while fighting fires, collecting intelligence, capturing exciting video footage, and engaging in national defense, they hold the promise of improved safety and convenience for all. It’s hard not to be impressed by displays like this:

But (you knew there had to be a “but”, didn’t you?) at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Every time I see a video, article, or link about drones, my response is “Eh. Who cares?”. I’ll probably offend some folks by saying this, but there’s something about these autonomous devices that turns my blood cold. It’s not that I hate them. I just don’t care about them.

When I think about flying, drones never enter the picture. In fact, I don’t consider operating a drone to be “flying” at all. In my mind, it’s on par with falconry, paper airplanes, kites, and sailboarding. That’s not to say it’s bad; on the contrary, some drone operators look like they’re having the time of their lives and there’s nothing wrong with that. I hold no animosity toward those who view drones and UAVs as the most exciting thing since the integrated circuit. But while there are aviation elements present, it’s not flying in the way I know and love it.

For one thing, the operator/pilot has a much different experience and perspective on flying. There’s no skin in the game when the worst that can happen is the loss of the drone. Operators are solidly anchored to terra firma, looking up at their craft the same way men have looked skyward at the birds since the dawn of time. That awe-inspiring ability to literally transport yourself and others across time and space? Gone.

There’s no physical connection to the flight controls or the invisible fluid through which the craft sails, no seat-of-the-pants experience. And how much satisfaction can you get from a smooth landing when the craft does all the heavy lifting through gyro-stabilization and computer technology? I guess I feel about drones the way some sailboat owners feel about engine-driven boats.

Perhaps the thing I see most lacking in the proliferation of drones is the sense of pride that comes from operating within any community of highly-trained professionals. Pilots definitely fall into that category. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see random individuals who happen to purchase a remote-controlled flying device as belonging to that same cadre. Especially when a typical story reads like this:

After saying “the FAA has got to be responsive to the entire industry,” [FAA UAS office chief] Jim Williams referred to a pair of incidents in which drones caused injuries to people on the ground. One came at an event at Virginia Motor Speedway in which an “unauthorized, unmanned aircraft” crashed into the stands, and in the other a female triathlete in Australia had to get stitches after being struck by a small drone.

Then, Williams segued to a pilot’s recent report of “a near midair collision” with a drone near the airport in Tallahassee, Florida. The pilot said that it appeared to be small, camouflaged, “remotely piloted” and about 2,300 feet up in the air at the time of the incident.

“The pilot said that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it,” Williams said.

Or this one:

UAV Causes Medical Helicopter Landing Delay

The landing of a CareFlight helicopter approaching Miami Valley hospital in Dayton, OH was delayed by a small UAV flying in the area, according to the company.

Television station WDTN reports that a CareFlight nurse aboard the helo was the first to spot the small aircraft flying in the vicinity of the hospital. The helicopter reportedly had a “significantly hurt” patient on board at the time.

The company notified both local police and hospital authorities in an effort to find the person operating the UAV before allowing the helicopter to proceed with its approach. The operator was taking aerial photos of a park in the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, which is near the hospital.

By all accounts, heavier-than-air flight had a definite Wild West quality about it in the early days, too. I’ll freely admit that it’s easy to paint with a wide brush where UAV antics are concerned, so maybe I’m simply being closed-minded about drones. Or more accurately, drone operators. But I feel the way I feel about it. I suppose that’s one thing drones and traditional aircraft pilots have in common: they both develop a reputation — deserved or not — based on the media’s incessant bleat of any sensational or negative news.

I’m curious to know if others have a similar reaction to the burgeoning unmanned aircraft industry. What’re your thoughts?

The Hacked Airplane

gulfstream-on-snow-gradient

For better or worse, the relentless march of technology means we’re more connected than ever, in more places than ever. For the most part that’s good. We benefit from improving communication, situational awareness, and reduced pilot workload in the cockpit. But there’s a dark side to digital connectivity, and I predict it’s only a matter of time before we start to see it in our airborne lives.

Consider the recent Heartbleed security bug, which exposed countless user’s private data to the open internet. It wasn’t the first bug and it won’t be the last. Since a good pilot is always mindful the potential exigencies of flying, it’s high time we considered how this connectivity might affect our aircraft.

Even if you’re flying an ancient VFR-only steam gauge panel, odds are good you’ve got an Android or iOS device in the cockpit. And that GPS you rely upon? Whether it’s a portable non-TSO’d unit or the latest integrated avionics suite bestowed from on high by the Gods of Glass, your database updates are undoubtedly retrieved from across the internet. Oh, the database itself can be validated through checksums and secured through encryption, but who knows what other payloads might be living on that little SD card when you insert it into the panel.

“Gee, never thought about that”, you say? You’re not alone. Even multi-billion dollar corporations felt well protected right up to the moment that they were caught flat-footed. As British journalist Misha Glenny sagely noted, there are only two types of companies: those that know they’ve been hacked, and those that don’t.

Hackers are notoriously creative, and even if your computer is secure, that doesn’t mean your refrigerator, toilet, car, or toaster is. From the New York Times:

They came in through the Chinese takeout menu.

Unable to breach the computer network at a big oil company, hackers infected with malware the online menu of a Chinese restaurant that was popular with employees. When the workers browsed the menu, they inadvertently downloaded code that gave the attackers a foothold in the business’s vast computer network.

Remember the Target hacking scandal? Hackers obtained more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers from what the company believed to be tightly secured computers. The Times article details how the attackers gained access through Target’s heating and cooling system, and notes that connectivity has transformed everything from thermostats to printers into an open door through which cyber criminals can walk with relative ease.

Popular Mechanics details more than 10 billion devices connected to the internet in an effort to make our lives easier and more efficient, but also warns us that once everything is connected, everything will be open to hacking.

During a two-week long stretch at the end of December and the beginning of January, hackers tapped into smart TVs, at least one refrigerator, and routers to send out spam. That two-week long attack is considered one of the first Internet of Things hacks, and it’s a sign of things to come.

The smart home, for instance, now includes connected thermostats, light bulbs, refrigerators, toasters, and even deadbolt locks. While it’s exciting to be able to unlock your front door remotely to let a friend in, it’s also dangerous: If the lock is connected to the same router your refrigerator uses, and if your refrigerator has lax security, hackers can enter through that weak point and get to everything else on the network—including the lock.

We can laugh at the folly of connecting a bidet or deadbolt to the internet, but let’s not imagine we aren’t equally vulnerable. Especially in the corporate/charter world, today’s airplanes often communicate with a variety of satellite and ground sources, providing diagnostic information, flight times, location data, and more. Gulfstream’s Elite cabin allows users to control window shades, temperature, lighting, and more via a wireless connection to iOS devices. In the cockpit, iPads are now standard for aeronautical charts, quick reference handbooks, aircraft and company manuals, and just about everything else that used to be printed on paper. Before certification, the FAA expressed concern about the Gulfstream G280’s susceptibility to digital attack.

"There's an app for that!" The Gulfstream Elite cabin can be controlled from iOS devices.

“There’s an app for that!” The Gulfstream Elite cabin can be controlled from iOS devices.

But the biggest security hole for the corporate/charter types is probably the on-board wi-fi systems used by passengers in flight. Internet access used to be limited below 10,000 feet, but the FAA’s recent change on that score means it’s only a matter of time before internet access is available at all times in the cabin. And these systems are often comprised of off-the-shelf hardware, with all the attendant flaws and limitations.

Even if it’s not connected to any of the aircraft’s other systems, corporate and charter aircraft typically carry high net-worth individuals, often businessmen who work while enroute. It’s conceivable that a malicious individual could sit in their car on the public side of the airport fence and hack their way into an aircraft’s on-board wi-fi, accessing the sensitive data passengers have on their laptops without detection.

What are the trade secrets and business plans of, say, a Fortune 100 company worth? And what kind of liability would the loss of such information create for the hapless charter company who found themselves on the receiving end of such an attack? I often think about that when I’m sitting at Van Nuys or Teterboro, surrounded by billions of dollars in jet hardware.

Internet connectivity is rapidly becoming available to even the smallest general aviation aircraft. Even if you’re not flying behind the latest technology from Gulfstream or Dassault, light GA airplanes still sport some cutting-edge stuff. From the Diamond TwinStar‘s Engine Control Units to the electronic ignition systems common in many Experimental aircraft to Aspen’s Connected Panel, a malicious hacker with an aviation background and sufficient talent could conceivably wreak serious havoc.

Wireless data transmission for the GA cockpit: Aspen's Connected Panel

Wireless data transmission for the GA cockpit: Aspen’s Connected Panel

Mitigating these risks requires the same strategies we apply to every other piece of hardware in our airplanes: forethought, awareness, and a good “Plan B”. If an engine quits, for example, every pilot know how to handle it. Procedures are committed to memory and we back it up with periodic recurrent training. If primary flight instruments are lost in IMC, a smart pilot will be prepared for that eventuality.

As computers become an ever more critical and intertwined part of our flying, we must apply that same logic to our connected devices. Otherwise we risk being caught with our pants down once the gear comes up.


This article first appeared on the AOPA Opinion Leaders blog.

A Starship in the Wild

starship

The Starship. It’s been one of my favorite aircraft ever since I first saw it on the pages of Flying as a kid. The very name conjures up a sense of possibility and exploration, as though the very atmosphere would be unable to contain it.

I happened upon one the other day as we taxied out to depart from Vail, Colorado in the Gulfstream. As is typical on a weekend day, the Eagle County Airport was abuzz with traffic, so we sat at the end of the runway cooling our heels while inbound aircraft made their approach. Nothing to do but admire the rare animal idling in front of us, those five-bladed McCauley props turning as the heat plumes flowed from the PT-6A-67 exhaust stacks.

Delays are normally unwelcome.  But when you're sitting behind a Starship, it's not so bad.

Delays are normally unwelcome. But when you’re sitting behind a Starship, it’s not so bad.

It’s always a bit of a shock actually seeing one in the wild because Raytheon ceased supporting the airplane more than a decade ago, even going so far as to buy back and retire as many of the remaining airframes as they possibly could in exchange deals for new Premier jets.

I wrote about the Starship a decade ago and compared it with the Concorde as the latter was being retired. I suppose it’s apropos to ponder the futuristic-yet-retired Beech creation now that Beechcraft itself is being absorbed by Textron.

The Starship was every bit as futuristic as the Concorde. Developed in the early 1980′s, it was designed to replace the most successful business turboprop in history, the King Air.

Starship was revolutionary because it the airframe was made of composites like carbon fiber. Composites are lighter and stronger than aluminum, but they are more complex to manufacture and they haven’t been around that long. Consequently, the FAA was very conservative and required a lot of extra testing and data for certification. It was also difficult and very labor intensive to manufacture, and many of Raytheon’s subcontractors missed critical deadlines. Raytheon itself experienced many delays as it learned to work with resins, adhesives, sealants, and other composite materials.

Eventually the bugs were worked out, but the damage had been done. Only 53 Starships were built. And of those, only a small handful were ever sold. Most have remained in Raytheon’s inventory for more than a decade and have been used to supply replacement parts for the existing fleet.

Starship was also one of the very first airplanes to be designed and built using a computer system. Called CATIA, this same system was used to create the Boeing 777.

The storied Beech name reaches back more than eighty years. The company developed and built some of the longest-lived products in the history of aviation. Although they’re only built sparingly these days, Bonanzas have been manufactured since 1947, and the relatively young King Air line began in 1964 — a paltry half-century ago.

Despite the firm’s financial difficulties, Beech at least makes something tangible. Beyond the cache and history of the Beechcraft name, it has facilities, production lines, patents, type certificates, intellectual property, and a comparatively skilled work force. To me, it simple generates far more excitement than, say, the high-flying Twitter, which has a market cap of $35 billion but has never turned a profit or built anything that makes the pulse race the way an aircraft can.

Happier times for Beech: the rollout of the first Starship.  If only they'd know how short the "future" would be...

Happier times for Beech: the rollout of the first Starship. If only they’d know how short the “future” would be…

When I was growing up, Beech/Raytheon represented some of the most exciting and cutting-edge stuff in the world of flying. I suppose that’s what I was truly reminded of when we found ourselves holding behind this beauty.

It also occurred to me that the jet I was flying — a Gulfstream IV — celebrated its maiden flight only a few months before the Starship. How different their fates have been! The G-IV was wildly successful and is still in production while the promising composite turboprop never really got off the ground. It’s worth noting that a similar business aircraft, the Piaggio Avanti, also made its first flight in the mid-1980s and is still being built. And why not? It achieves nearly 400 knots at a 40% fuel savings over comparable jets.

It must be painful for those who worked on the Starship project to know that airplanes like the Waco YMF-5 and Great Lakes biplanes — 1920’s tube-and-fabric technology — are still being built and sold while the sleek, modern ship they labored over is more or less relegated to photographs and museums. Aviation: it’s a strange business.

Stick & Rudder Skills Are Important

Bellanca Decathlon

AVweb’s Glenn Pew interviewed Embry-Riddle professor and former Northwest captain Jack Panosian in a podcast entitled “Avionics — Good Pilots Not Required?”. It’s an inflammatory title, no doubt to encourage people to dive for that “play” button. Obviously it worked, because I listened to the whole thing.

Panosian has an impressive resume: 20 years at Northwest, 5 years at ERAU, and he’s got a Juris Doctorate as well. Nevertheless, while I agreed with some of what he said, certain portions of his thesis seem way off base.

I’ll summarize his points:

  • automation used to monitor human pilots, but today it’s the other way around: we are monitoring the computers these days, and we’re not very good at it
  • computers are good monitors, they do it the same way every time, with the same level of diligence
  • stick & rudder skills are less important than avionics management skill and we need to teach with that in mind

The first two points may be correct (I’ll get to the third one later), but computers don’t “monitor”, they simply execute programming. There’s a big difference there. It’s true that when people monitor the same thing over and over again, we cannot maintain the same vigilance ad nauseum. But when humans monitor something, they’re capable of doing so with thoughtful and reasoned analysis. Humans can think outside the box. They can adapt and prioritize based on what’s actually happening rather than being limited by their programming.

Computers are not capable of that. Remember, system failures are not always covered by the aircraft operating procedures or training, and that’s why safe flight still requires human input and oversight. We are also capable of putting more focus on our monitoring during critical phases of flight. For example, I watch airspeed and flight path with much greater attention during approach than I typically will during cruise.

It’s also worth considering that, despite all the automation, humans still manually perform the takeoff, landing, taxi phases, as well as fly the airplane when the computers get confused or take the day off. These are the areas where most accidents happen. Air France 447 stalled up in the flight levels and remained in that state until reaching the ocean. Colgan 3407 was another stall accident. Asiana 214 was a visual approach gone wrong. Better manual flying skill might very well have made the difference in at least some of these accidents.

Tailwheels, aerobatics, gliders, and formation flying are just a few ways to improve stick-and-rudder skills.  We need more of that, not less.

Tailwheels, aerobatics, and formation flying are just a few ways to improve stick-and-rudder skills. We need more of that, not less.

Glenn Pew asked, “How much of flying the airplane is flying the avionics?”, and Panosian replied that “the greatest innovation was the moving map”, giving an example of synthetic vision showing terrain at night. In my experience, a moving map is no guarantee of situational awareness. I’ve trained many pilots to fly VFR and IFR in glass panel Cirruses, DiamondStars, experimentals, and so on. I can’t tell you how many of them had no idea where they were, even with a 10″ full color moving map directly in front of them. When asked the simple question, “Where are we right now?”, you’d be surprised how many have a tough time coming up with an answer.

Does that seem odd to you? It shouldn’t. Situational awareness is not about the map in front of your eyes, it’s about the moving map inside your head. If you want evidence of that, look at the 2007 CFIT crash of a CAP Flight 2793, a C-182T Skylane which ran into high terrain near Las Vegas. That flight was piloted by two highly experienced pilots who were familiar with the area, had a G1000 panel in front of them, and still managed to fly into Mt. Potosi.

Panosian made the point that the Airbus was designed to be flown on autopilot “all the time — it was not designed to be flown by hand. It was designed so that it’s a hassle to be flown by hand”. Some business jets have similar characteristics. Who would want to hand fly the airplane straight and level for hours on end anyway? The light GA arena has an equivalent as well, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. I enjoy hand flying them, actually, but the airplane has a somewhat artificial feel due to the springs in the flight control system. It was purposefully designed to fly long distances on autopilot. It’s very good at that mission. It’s well equipped, and has plenty of safety equipment aboard. TAWS, traffic, CAPS, a solid autopilot, good avionics… and yet the Cirrus’s accident rate is not better than average.

I don’t believe the answer is to make the pilot a better manager of automation. This will not stop CFIT, stall/spin, weather, and takeoff or landing accidents.

“The Good news is that we have a generation of pilots that have grown up with this technology, these tablets, etc. and they grab hold of these things better than the older pilot who was trained on the round dials. That’s a good thing because now you’re just molding them into the aviation world and this is how you’ll operate the aircraft.”

I’m a big proponent of glass panels, tablets, and technology. They’re great. But they do not make one a good pilot. If you want a better pilot, start primary students off in a tailwheel airplane and ensure they know how to fly before doing anything else. Everything should flow out of that. I wouldn’t expect this to be a revolutionary idea, but perhaps it is.

“You are not going to be hired because of your stick and rudder skills. You will be hired because of your management skills.”

A good aviator needs both sets of skills. Management ability is important, but no more so than stick-and-rudder capability. If you can’t physically fly the airplane during any or all phases of flight, you don’t belong in the cockpit because any equipment issues during those phases can leave the aircraft without someone capable of safely operating it. Pilots who can’t proficiently hand-fly are passengers. Console operators. Button pushers. System monitors (dog not included). But they’re not pilots.

“In other words, can you manage all these systems, can you manages the information you’re getting and make sure that the airplane is doing what it’s supposed to do? The fact of the matter is that we’ve see this in other industries. It’s hardly unique to the airline industry. A robot can do a better job of welding than a human. An autopilot has many more sensors than a human hand does. They can be done better and safer than a human being, but they must be monitored properly. That’s where the training comes in. We have to change from the stick & rudder skills to the manager skills. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The problem with his comparison is that flying an airplane is not like welding. Welding does not require you to manage the energy state of a large chunk of metal hurling through the air while maintaining situational awareness, staying ahead of the aircraft mentally, and adjusting for countless variables ranging from weather to traffic to equipment failures to controllers, often all at the same time and at the end of a long work day. Doing all those things does constitute “management”, but I don’t think it’s the kind Mr. Panosian is referring to.

And as far as the autopilot is concerned, it’s extraordinarily simplistic to compare a full autopilot system to a single human hand. What about the rest of the body? What about the vestibular labyrinthine system and resultant equilibrioception? There’s proprioception, thermoception, etc. (Look ‘em up — I had to!). And that’s to say nothing of our sense of sight, hearing, touch, and smell. We use those when we fly, even without direct knowledge of what our body is doing. How many times have you noticed a subtle vibration from a prop or engine, the sound of a leaking seal around a door, the sense of something just not being quite right?

Autopilots do some things better than a human. Automation is helpful and absolutely has it’s place. But it is no substitute for a flesh-and-blood pilot who knows how to fly the machine.

What say you, readers?


This article first appeared on the AOPA Opinion Leaders blog at http://blog.aopa.org/opinionleaders/2013/09/11/stick-and-rudder/.

Getting Better: Simulators for General Aviation

Angel City Flyer's DA-42 Twin-Star flight training device.  The simulators are getting better, folks!

When it comes to technology, it’s funny how little general aviation has changed over the years. A pilot transported to the modern day from a half-century ago would recognize most of the airplanes flying today. He’d certainly recognize 21st century engines and props, because it’s the same stone-simple, air-cooled reciprocating hardware they had 80 years ago.

The price, on the other hand, would probably give our time-traveling barnstormer a heart attack that not even modern medicine could fix. I can see him clutching his chest while proclaiming “In my day, gas was $0.15 a gallon!”

Since I started flying, the most notable changes have occurred where computers are used. Avionics, tablets, internet-based data connectivity, traffic and terrain avoidance, etc. In many cases the revolutionary thing isn’t even the technology, but the incredible drop in prices that has made even the certificated stuff available to the everyday general aviation pilot.

A good example is today’s news about the huge price reduction on the Garmin 3X glass panel suite. Not only has the price decreased, but they’re now throwing in their class-leading GFC-700 two-axis autopilot for free.

Garmin’s flagship product, the G3X EFIS, will get a new low-cost and lighter ADAHRS system and a new engine indication product that will drop the price of the complete package to $4375. Sweetening the deal will be additional modules for the G3X, including an integrated autopilot with similar capabilities as the popular GFC 700 certified system, an angle-of-attack system for stall awareness and a hard-mount remote ADS-B receiver based on the GDL39 portable product.

As much as I follow the glass revolution, I never thought much about GA simulators until Brent mentioned it on iFlyBlog.

It’s not all about the checking, there is a great deal of learning the occurs as well. You get to try things you could never do in the real airplane and you get to practice little-used procedures so they aren’t too rusty in case you need to press them into service.

There has been significant movement to bring flight simulation to a wider audience of pilots. Redbird Flights Simulations has been providing the tools to do just that. By my rough count there are at least 176 Red Bird Simulators at flight schools across the US. That’s a lot of simulators!

The mention of RedBird reminded me of a recent visit to Angel City Flyers, a Diamond-esque GA flight training operation at Long Beach Airport. They have two of the most advanced general aviation simulators I’ve seen. One is a DA-42 TwinStar simulator. No motion, but it has a full wrap-around visual and what appears to be an actual DA-42 cockpit, including canopy, G1000, and the rest of the works. The sim was manufactured by ELITE Simulation Solutions, who refers to it as the “iGATE Advanced Aviation Training Device”, or A-ATD. From what I was told, the TwinStar sim is not a new addition. They’ve had it since 2005.

Angel City Flyer's DA-42 Twin-Star flight training device.  The simulators are getting better, folks!

Angel City Flyer’s DA-42 Twin-Star flight training device. The simulators are getting better, folks!

Incidentally, ACF also recently installed a Redbird-based Citation Mustang simulator that was on display during the open house I attended. They had it running in some sort of demonstration mode (or it could just have been the autopilot was on, who knows). I don’t see any mention of it on their web site yet, but the setup was pretty sweet, complete with huge flat screen display outside the sim which showed a “chase plane” perspective of the Mustang as it flew. The cockpit interior looked very much like the actual Mustang jet parked outside their hangar.

Some of these simulators (“flight training devices”, technically) are so advanced and technology-heavy that their hourly prices start to approach those of the actual aircraft. At least, that’s the case with the lower end of the market. The TwinStar FTD at Angel City runs $110 an hour. For something like a Mustang, where operating costs are probably in the $1600/hr range, spending $250/hr or so on a halfway decent motion-based FTD is a no-brainer. Mastering flows and procedures in the sim will maximize the benefits reaped from each hour spent in the actual jet.

The Citation Mustang, a "very light jet" (though not an inexpensive one!)

The Citation Mustang, a “very light jet” (though not an inexpensive one!)

The one place where these advanced FTDs really shine is in allowing pilots to try things they can’t or shouldn’t do in real life. Taking an engine-out scenario all the way to touchdown, simulating smoke in the cockpit, deploying a ballistic recovery parachute, extreme unusual attitudes in a non-aerobatic airplane, emergency descents, icing encounters, zero-zero departures, and so on.

During my last recurrent training session on the Gulfstream IV, we had an extra session in the sim and the instructor asked if there was anything in particular I’d like to use it for. My preference is usually to run emergency scenarios and simulate situations that don’t occur very often, because it’s so easy to get rusty on stuff that’s not used on a regular basis. So he set me up on a hot day in Aspen, we figured out the performance-limited maximum weight we could handle, and I departed with a not-unexpected engine failure just after V1.

The Gulfstream IV "Level D" simulator is literally a small building sitting on a bunch of hard-core hydraulics.

The Gulfstream IV “Level D” simulator is literally a small building sitting on a bunch of hard-core hydraulics.

As an added bonus, the visuals were left on so I could see how close the aircraft gets to terrain while flying the departure procedure (the short answer: reeeeealy close!). Then I climbed up to cruise altitude and experienced a loss of cabin pressure followed by an emergency descent and single-engine approach and missed at Denver.

Simulators are just that — simulations. They’re not the real thing, and even the best of them can’t duplicate reality with 100% accuracy, but the benefits of ever-more-accurate reproductions are undeniable. With the high (and rising) cost of flying, the same high-fidelity stuff that has kept jet pilots safe and current is rapidly becoming available to the rest of us.