Desk Pilot

You can practice your flying at home—virtually.

When I first began writing about private aviation more than 30 years ago personal computers (PCs) hadn’t really hit the consumer market. Within 10 years there was not only a proliferation of PCs, but also many software programs to help you pretend to fly. They helped you hone your skills—especially if you bought a joystick or yoke controller to go with it— but ground terrain was simulated by dots to give you some perception of height. Okay, but not realistic.

Today, computers and graphics are dramatically more powerful. So are control systems. For an investment of about $300 (in addition to a PC) you can be flying a variety of aircraft with such reality that you might want to keep an airbag nearby! Let me illustrate …

You start up one of the popular flight simulation programs on your computer, select an aircraft, and select a departure airport. You can pick an airport near your home or you can fly your craft out of Baghdad International; it’s your choice. Apply throttle, move rudder pedals under the desk with your feet to keep the craft near the centerline, and when the plane reaches climb speed it will either fly off the runway by itself or with a little encouragement from you pulling back on the joystick or yoke. All the instruments that you’d see in a real aircraft are in front of you and telling you things.

Depending on the program you’ve selected and the add-ons purchased, you will see a realistic representation of conditions you will face flying out of your selected airport. At the least, mountains will look approximately like mountains, and cities will look like cities. Add-on scenery products can show you, for instance, what flying over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty looks like. You’ll even see ferry boats on the Hudson!

Desk flying can be fun!