Southern Mail

Yesterday’s rain has stopped and in its place, a fine but windy ‘autumn’ day. It’s amazing how the weather appears to have made a seasonal change in the space of a week.

Having finished a piece for the New Statesman, I decided to investigate the progress on my rather dusty looking aircraft in the barn at Maypole. Fighting the gale along the sea-wall on my mountain bike, I cycled the twelve miles to the farm strip and ‘Oh joy’; it’s finally being reassembled after almost three months on the ground having its engine overhauled. I tell you, buying a used aircraft is as dodgy as buying a used car. Every rule says that an aircraft has to meet stringent safety checks but experience suggests that aircraft owners can be as dependable as ‘Dell Trotter’ when it comes to meeting the CAA’s regulations. Trouble is there’s no AA to give you a £30 ‘airworthiness’ check, so I have learned a hard an expensive lesson about honesty in the used aircraft business. There’s not much of it around.

Now, with a reconditioned engine and new avionics, I need to decide whether I’ll keep the Cessna 150 ‘money pit’ or sell it and get a cheap to run and basic 1930’s biplane instead. The only thing is that the latter is a single-seater, open-cockpit job, which may be lot’s of fun but isn’t great in winter and not exactly ideal for shopping hops over the channel. I was tempted to fly it down to Nice for the Unisys 'Zero Gap' computing seminar I'm attending at the end of September but it's probably quicker and more comfortable on British airways. Much less fun though.

Twenty-five miles on the cycle left me begging for some Neurofen and it would probably be more merciful to shoot me. Anyway, with flying fixed in my mind again, I decided to buy Microsoft’s new ‘Flight Simulator 2004’.

I’m reminded that it must be almost twenty years since I first played with Microsoft’s flight simulation software and my prediction that the company would dominate the vertical market came out correct. Graphically, it has changed beyond recognition but at the basic Cessna level, there’s only so much you can add, GPS and so on.

As an aid to flying training it’s invaluable but there’s a huge difference between the software and the ‘real thing’ as I found out myself when I first learned to fly. It’s great for understanding procedures and principles but when you happen to be wrapped in dark clouds, being thrown across the sky and with only your instruments to tell you which way is up or down and where you are, then the comfortable world of desktop flight simulation seems a very long way away.

You can’t beat the real thing, it’s what life is for because ultimately, simulation is bound to disappoint.


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