Some of the fellows at Evans & Sutherland invited me for a crash course in operating one of their simulators.
Crash course may be a bad choice of words, but it's a good way to judge my performance. It's a good thing the entire episode was a simulation because if it hadn't been, my name would have appeared on the obituary page of my own newspaper.A pilot I'm not and don't want to be. But I was willing to accept the invitation of Alan R. Fletcher, vice president of administration in E&S's Simulation Division; Steve Goff, manager of visual systems development; Steve Hallmark, supervisor of database development; and Jeff Edwards, communications manager.
They probably needed a good laugh since things at E&S have been rather routine lately.
Anyway, photographer Don Grayston and I headed for Research Park and the E&S complex to help company officials explain to the public more about what they do. What they do, and they do it very well, is design computer graphics used in pilot training.
It's a lot better for a novice pilot to crash in the simulator than mess up a multimillion-dollar airplane, either commercial or military. In the simulator only your ego gets bruised.
We were driven to one of E&S's buildings and once inside we see two domes, a large one and a smaller one, called a 24-foot dome. It is quite dark inside the dome and I can barely make out the simulator, which looks like an oversize sled on Dis-neyland's Matterhorn ride.
Grayston was first in the simulator while I picked up some interesting facts about the computer graphics. Goff said E&S is now selling the domes to go along with the high-performance and regular image generators sold to commercial airlines for pilot training.
In front of the simulator is a moving picture show that I equated with the old Cinemascope film days that provide a panoramic view resembling what a pilot sees from the cockpit of his airplane. These programs are made on computers from aerial photographs and maps and two projectors put the computer program to motion.
The cockpit of the simulator was fixed to resemble the cockpit of a Tornado fighter plane, a two-man fighter build by a consortium of three European countries. The "ground" over which we flew was in eastern Germany.
In the short time we had in the simulator, we couldn't get acquainted with all of the instruments so we mainly had control of the stick that allowed us to climb and descend. As you "fly," you are keenly aware of things on the screen such as rivers, highways, buildings and cities that appear as a gray blob.
Your main concern is keeping the "aircraft" level and that is done by watching a gauge that has an airplane on it. Move the stick to the left and you bank left and so on.
After the level flying became old hat, I had Goff return the graphics program to the start and I would try to land the Tornado. Not knowing my air speed (those guys didn't tell me about the control for the left hand) I dipped toward the runway.
Funny thing how the ground came up to meet me so quickly. Had it been a real runway, there would have been a furrow down the middle and I would have been looking some field mice in the face. I tried to land several times and never did do it safely, although I improved.
Had I been in a real simulator, there would have been cabin noise, a stick that responds like a real airplane's, problems that crop up to see how a pilot responds and even wind shears that would test even the most experienced pilot.
I went away from the experience with a greater appreciation of pilots. All of those dials. All of the potential problems. All of the responsibility. And boy, did I get woozy when banking the "aircraft" when trying to turn around.