Welcome to Cyberairspace
Where you can fly from Chicago to Atlanta without leaving your living room.
- By Ed Regis
- Air & Space magazine, January 2009
Delta Virtual Airlines
(Page 3 of 8)
While tracking virtual aircraft is easy, knowing the exact locations of flight crews is less so because virtual pilots are not required to remain seated in their virtual cockpits for entire flights. While flying from Atlanta to Tokyo, for instance, Eshenour flew a Delta airliner as far as Alaska, then turned the flight over to the aircraft’s flight management system and went to bed. He woke up in time to start the descent and made an on-time landing. Such allowances might seem like cheating, but real-world pilots do almost the same thing, napping in crew rest areas on long-distance flights while copilots take over.
The question arises: Why do a bunch of sane, calm, and levelheaded people go to such extremes to make something essentially fake seem real?
“This is a way to live out the fantasy,” says Eshenour. He had always loved airplanes and aviation, but had no desire to learn to fly. Now retired, he had been in upper management at the Coca-Cola Company. He was responsible for introducing the company’s Minute Maid brand to Japan, where he and his wife lived for two years. Somewhere back in the 1980s, he bought a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and played it on his home PC.
“In Japan I was using this as a personal escape,” he says. “You can set up in your mind some goal you want to achieve: You want to go someplace, you want to do things under certain conditions. And when you’re pursuing that, you can block out anything around you.”
In 1988 he came back to the States and worked at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta. He bought a new computer and an upgraded version of Flight Simulator. “The version for the year 2000 had something in it about ‘online flying,’ ” he says.
Online flying, it turned out, was simulated flying with the added attraction of air traffic control. The surprise was that the air traffic control experience was not part of the Flight Simulator program, nor was it any sort of add-on program. (There are tons of add-ons and plug-ins for simulated-flight enthusiasts: ones for combat flying, navigation, route planning, and crew scheduling, among others.) Instead, air traffic control was provided by real live people wrapped up in their own pet simulation: virtual air traffic control.
For a virtual pilot such as Eshenour, who had been doing all of his simulated flying, crashing, and burning in the privacy of his own home, the question was whether to go public. It was in fact a big decision.
“What happens when you’re online and you have ATC on the other side and they can see you, and you screw up?” he asks. “Really, they can see you screw up! Am I going to be confident enough to do that as an aviator? Do I really understand how to communicate and to navigate under ATC and under IFR [instrument flight] rules?”