By lex, on September 1st, 2007
Got to hand it to the kids from Mountain View. Turns out the latest version of Google Earth contains an (undocumented) flight simulator.
Weekend posting may be light.
Update: OK, I guess. My standards for flight simulators tends to be a bit higher than for average folks, and in any case I never much got into PC-based flight emulation software. The developers seem to feel the need to make aircraft control twitchier than real machines, so you spend a great deal more time chasing wings level or even pitch attitude than you do in actual flight where the controls tend to be dampened both by aerodynamic forces, and – in modern machines – complex software algorithms.
One of the emulated aircraft in Google Earth was the F-16, which makes this even more ironic. You see the F-16, like the FA-18, uses flight control computers to help deliver both dynamic and static stability to what would otherwise by dynamically unstable airframes. The F-16 uses a force sensor on its sidestick controller, unlike the Hornet which uses a position sensor for its conventionally mounted flight control stick (although the rudders do use force sensors in the Hornet).
The long and the short of that is that if you roll an F-16 to the left by pressuring the sidestick, it will only continue to roll so long as there is stick pressure. Once you take the pressure off, the aircraft immediately stops rolling in whatever attitude it finds itself. In the FA-18, the control laws were designed to be more “familiar” to pilots trained in conventional, hydro-mechanically boosted flight controls. That means that some one banking sharply left first throws the stick to the left. When he approached his desired bank angle, he would actually place the stick right of center to stop the roll before finally returning it to center to maintain the angle of bank. Control input, counter-input, stasis.
A subtle distinction, one would think, until an FA-18 pilot of my acquaintance with over a thousand hours in the jet led his first two-ship of F-16s back into the overhead pattern at NAS Key West back in 1991. This particular plumber, whose name I shall not reveal but whose call sign rhymes with “Hex”, thought it would be cool to perform a max performance left hand break turn away from his wingman to join downwind. Max pressure left to start the turn resulted in a gratifyingly quick snap to the left. Unfortunately, the max pressure counter bank to the right not merely stopped the left hand turn at the desired angle, it quickly threw the jet into a partial right hand turn back into a startled wingman.
How cool was he at that moment?
Not so very.