10:16 AM

The Amazing
Young Mind

For the last few days, I have been in awe of two new X-plane "pilots", my step-sons Mike and Scott. That is because in a very short time – and with just a few tips and tricks for operating the sim – they have shown me just how valuable today's flight simulator software can be.

Let's take a quick look at the very recent simulator experiences of both new "pilots"...

Scott: After visiting with him over Christmas up in Portland, Los Angeles-based Scott traveled with the family down to my house in Eugene to spend the weekend. In recent memory, I am pretty sure he has never flown X-Plane except maybe in passing...for fun. So when he sat down to "fly" my sim in my flight training room, I can easily say he was a newbie at the program.

That apparently made little difference. He is a video editor and computer tech/designer/expert, so anything done on a Windows or Mac machine is quite easy for him to pick up quickly. But on his first attempt at a landing at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, he made the hardest of nosewheel landings, bouncing up, only to again slam the poor, innocent nosewheel to the runway. Eventually he ground the simulated Cessna to a halt, causing what I believe to be about $12,000 in simulated airframe damage.

But on the second attempt, he made the runway without breaking anything. I stepped away for a moment, and when I returned, I watch this virtual flight sim beginner make a "no chirp" greaser that was so smooth, it verified my belief that twentysomething minds can learn great things with relative ease.
O.K., that was Scott, who was just playing, more or less. Now let's take a look at his older brother, who is quite serious about earning his private pilot ticket someday:
Michael: A few weeks back over the mouth of the mighty Columbia River near Astoria, Oregon, I let Mike take over the controls of 27W for a few minutes. Without even trying, he held altitude and heading to private pilot practical test standards, or damn close to them. So for Christmas, the family all chipped in and bought him X-Plane 8.6, a CH Products 10-button flight sim yoke, and a set of USB rudder pedals. After an easy installation, he dove right in on Christmas Day, and with a little shade tree CFI'ing from me, I had him landing with ease in the program's Cessna 172.

Over this weekend, he came to my house and flew my sim, nailing landings like a pro. In just a few days, he has already progressed past simple airspeed exercises, and was itching to learn navigation. Again, after watching a few fine landings, I left the room to play cards, and when I returned, he had the plane set up off shore near Catalina Island, and was eager to learn the 411 on how to navigate to and land at Long Beach. Pretty aggressive stuff for a rookie X-Plane guy.

So I blasted through the basics of VOR navigation, and in doing so, 'splained the basics of shooting an ILS. Before I new it – and on his very first try – he centered VOR #2's needle direct Seal Beach, and when the needle on Nav #1 came alive while tuned to the ILS 30 approach to LGB, he turned to the inbound heading of 300, slid down the glideslope and dropped in like he was a Skywest Captain just out doing a day run around SoCal.
Watching these two twentysomethings fly the sim showed me there is hope for GA in the generations to come. Because throughout all the years since the Wright's did their thing at Kill Devil Hills, two things have always been constant: (1) Parents who fly will always try and get their kids interested in flying, and (2) those kids will grow up at the airport and have kids that they can inspire to become aviators. When that happens, the circle becomes complete, keeping the GA community growing strong into the future.

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