The Joy of Flight (Simulation)


Ever since my first flight on an airplane at age 6 (actually, even before, but I think it really hit after flying for the first time), I've been utterly fascinated with flying. Right around the same time (not sure if it was before or after), I also discovered the existence of flight simulator software for personal computers. Between my love of planes and computers, I pretty much promised myself that if/when I finally got a computer I would make sure that one of the first things I got for it was a flight simulator.

Fast forward to the end of 6th grade and I finally got that computer. Wait a couple of months more for my birthday and I purchased a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 as the first "real game" (I managed to pick up a bargain bin game or two one the day we got the computer) for my new computer. While flying turned out to be much more complicated and difficult than I expected, I still enjoyed flying around the world, learning about pilot terminology, etc., despite the limitations of the 8088 CPU, lack of hard drive, and CGA graphics of that computer. However, after a while this software sat on the back burner as other things came to possess my interest. This may have been partly due to the horrible graphics of the limited computer I ran it on, but also because, as a real time simulator, flying anywhere interesting took a long time -- longer than I typically was willing to spend. I did revisit flight simulation again just before college when I purchased a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0 for my then brand new and state-of-the-art computer, but college being college, I didn't play it all that much either.

Now, alongside my love of flight simulation was a long time dream to get a pilot's license. I remember as a kid spending way too much time figuring out what I would do if I somehow became rich and how I'd spend the money. At the top of the list was becoming a pilot and buying a private jet I could use to fly around the country, visit my family overseas, and so on. While this dream has sometimes been dormant due to the nature of life and the responsibilities of adulthood, it was always there and it never took much to reawaken it at least for brief periods of time...

Moving on to the present day, my dream of flying was probably reawakened by small plane posters up in the cubicle of one of my co-workers. It reminded me of how much I used to enjoy flight simulators, so I decided to give the open source FlightGear simulator a whirl...

Wow! What a difference between FlightGear and MSFS 5! While it may not be the prettiest simulator on the market today, it certainly looks quite good and leaps and bounds beyond the earlier simulators I've used. Add that to free scenery for the entire world (including the airport in Portugal where my first flight as a six-year-old landed -- allowing me to recreate that first flight) and a huge selection of free aircraft ranging from the ubiquitous small Cessnas to 747s and I was hooked once again. I was hooked so bad that for the hell of it I started looking at local flight schools to see how much flight training would cost (answer: thousands of dollars) and even started shopping for planes and pilot gear, just for the hell of it.

Now I can't say for certain if I'll ever reach my dream of having a pilot's license and owning a plane (which is now a much more realistic Cessna as opposed to a business jet) due to the expense involved as well as having higher priority things on my financial list, but at least until if/when I can fly the real thing, there is always FlightGear. Even if I do get my license, I'll probably still use FlightGear or another simulator as where else would I be able to practice flying a 747? :)

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