I actually did fly a plane for real about 20 years ago. But only for maybe … five minutes.
I was living in Hartsville, South Carolina, about 70 miles inland from Myrtle Beach, at the time and I ran into a doctor I knew at one of the town’s popular lunch places.
He asked me if a wanted to go for a flight in his Mooney, which is a small, private aircraft known for its speed.
I wasn’t particularly busy that day, so I said, “Heck yes.”
It was a clear, sunny day, and when we were smoothly cruising at 5,000 feet my friend asked, “Tim, would you like to fly it for a while?”
I replied, “Are you serious? I don’t know how to fly.”
He said, “Trust me. It’s easy.”
So I took over the controls in the copilot seat and it was a hoot.
Flying a small plane that’s already airborne in good weather is about as easy as driving a compact car with power steering and an automatic transmission on an interstate with no traffic.
You steer left, you steer left. You push the lever to up, you pull the lever back to go down.
The tricky part, of course, is take off and landing. And flying through a thunderstorm or figuring out what to do if you suddenly find yourself trapped in a box canyon. I think we have a few of those in New Mexico.
I had the experience of “take off and landing” — and cruising at 5,000 feet over a “virtual” version of Roswell last week — in the flight simulator at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.
Guiding me through the friendly skies of Roswell was Bryan H. Liebig, a flight simulator instructor for the school’s aviation program.
Our “flying machine” was a Redbird MCX, which is a “full motion” simulator. That means the small cabin that simulates the cockpit moves around while you are at the controls.
“I’m comfortable with the Redbird because it is similar to the old link trainers that came out in the 1940s during World War II,” Liebig said.
At a cost of $120,000, Liebig said the Redbird is somewhere between a high-end simulator and a “desktop” set up like Microsoft Flight Simulator.
ENMU-R’s simulator is a based on the Cessna 172, a small, single-engine plane.
Liebig said he likes the configuration of the control panel because it has “steam gauges,” meaning that they are analog dials with needles.
While digital gauges are are more high-tech and look spiffy, Liebig said most commercial aircrafts have a combination of analog and digital gauges.
As anyone who’s ever experienced a computer crash knows, digital works great until … WARNING! WARNING! System crash. That’s when a pilot has to rely on analog gauges.
Altogether, training for a basic pilot’s license costs around $8,000, Liebig said.
And as you can imagination, the Federal Aviation Administration has all kinds of rules and regulations for flight certification.
By doing your first 20 hours of training in a simulator, Liebig said, a pilot-to-be can save several hundred dollars.
Another advantage, Liebig said, is if a student keeps repeating the same mistake he can stop the simulator and then try to figure out what the student’s weakness might be. That would not be an option in a real airplane.
Before taking off, there is a pretty long check list a pilot must go through. There’s a lot more to it than just cranking the ignition and checking the gas gauge. Then you need to get cleared from takeoff from the tower.
Inside the virtual cockpit are several “windows” in which the student and trainer can see the simulated airport and landscape.
Liebig made it a point that I also keep the nose of the plane in line with the horizon. In our one-hour session, he also stressed keeping the plane level by watching a gauge that shows a little icon of the plane tilting from one side to the other.
Liebig and I were on the controls at the same time, but I’d guess I was doing 50 to 60 percent of the flying.
The hardest part for me was keeping the plane straight while taxiing down the runway after landing. The controls are very touchy.
I commented to Liebig that — as a student on a real flight — it would be very embarrassing to have a perfect landing and then mess up by veering off the runway.
He said that does happen sometimes.
Vistas editor Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or email@example.com.