I’ve spent the last day and a half or so managing 3 FSX kiosks and offering demos and product info to attendees of this year’s Microsoft Air Force Symposium. This event, just like every other symposium, conference, trade show, or seminar I’ve ever attended is whirlwind of contacts, acronym-ridden conversations, lanyards, credentials and swag.
Most of the event is focused on IT infrastructure, sharing best practices, shifting technologies and embracing new paradigms to leverage emergering methodolgies, maximizing efficiency while … etc. There are a number of other vendors here, representing other Microsoft products, as well as third-party software and hardware, but the FSX stations are certainly among the most popular. Our traffic is surprisingly steady, even in the face of competition like the setup in the room next to me that says "Test Drive Windows Vista!"
While the number of current and former pilots that are stopping by is proportionally higher here than at a lot of shows, most of the questions are the same.
"What do I do?"
"What kind of computer do I need to run it?"
"It would be cool if you could use more than one monitor, or get rudder pedals or something."
"I used the first one, back in 2000." (For those not keeping score, Flight Sim 2000 was version 7.0)
"What happens if you crash?"
"If I buzz the White House, how come they don’t shoot me down?"
As usual, I’m finding that real pilots will do very well at flying the sim, if I can get them to try it for more than about a minute or two. That seems to be how long it takes for them to think of the sim not as a toy to be messed about with, but to approach it as they would any new aircraft they’d evaluate, getting a feel for the controls, and establishing a basic input, analysis, decision, response cycle.
One pilot in particular, a square-jawed C-130 aircraft commander with steel hair and flinty eyes called – and I wish I were making this up – Colonel Manley, sat for more than 90 minutes, refusing to leave until he’d successfully flown our Red Bull time trial mission, and beaten the jet truck in the race.
When I asked him why it was that he kept crashing when trying to fly through Gate 5, he had this to say:
"Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d prefer you just said thank you and went on your way."
I might be paraphrasing, slightly. his actual quote was probably closer to "Because this joystick is so &*#@!! sensitive!"
Something like that, anyway.