That Certain Something

Flight Simulators have taken enormous strides in the last few years towards the holy grail of immersion, that point where your brain can trick you into thinking you’re actually piloting a real aircraft. One of the the cul-de-sacs that the realism conversation can become mired in is the simulation of night lighting in the virtual cockpit.

I had the opportunity to take my first ever night flight a couple of days ago, and I came away from the experience with a newfound respect for after-hours aviating. My in-cockpit nighttime adventure featured one aspect I’d never encountered in a simulated aircraft — no night lighting at all! We thumped and jiggled on the various dome and instrument light switches during the preflight, and managed to get a weak glow to emanate from a couple of the instrument faces, but it was purely token lighting, and not particularly helpful.

Seeing as how we had the required exterior lighting, my instructor and I decided to go for it and do the flight anyway. Having another soul in the front office is a big help in this sort of situation, as she could work the penlight, shining it on the instruments while I did my best to keep us airborne and on course. You’ve not truly experienced a night landing until you’ve done one in a gusty unpredictable crosswind, yelling “airspeed, airspeed” to the person sitting next to you, who has become fixated on the threshold and let her flashlight arm droop.

Curiously, the more I fly, the more forgiving I am of simulated aircraft and their quirks. I’ve begun to understand that any aircraft over five years old seems to have its own personality, nasty habits included. Any oddness in the flight model (within reason) or lack of a feature, like, say, cockpit lighting, is more apt to be considered “just part of the plane’s charm” for me at this point. It’s all just part of that certain ‘something’ that brings the simulated world an inch or two closer to reality.

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