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Too much realism in flight simulation?

As a (non-active) instrument-rated pilot, one of my favorite diversions is X-Plane—as it's the closest I'll ever get to flying the "big iron." There are realistic touches in many spots in the sim, including the occasional bird flock visible during takeoff or landing at some airports. Now I'd seen these flocks on many occasions, but hadn't realized that they were the simulation.

But the other day, I was taking off in a 747 out of Portland (not like we really get those here), and a flock flew across the runway just after I rotated. Despite my best efforts, the 747 flew right through the clump of birds, and the he results were...quite surprising, and more gory than I was expecting. Read on for the details and a (too realistic?) screenshot.

A little (simulated) flying fun…

If you've been reading here much, or have ever seen me speak, you know that I'm somewhat of an aviation fan. I'm an instrument-rated private pilot (though not current, thanks to family, money, and Oregon weather!), and X-Plane is one of my favorite diversions. I love being able to pilot aircraft I'll never have the chance to fly here in reality, and to fly in weather conditions that I wouldn't dare to go near in a real airplane. X-Plane also features real-world weather, so I can fly around the Portland area in conditions that closely match what I see out the office window.

Yesterday, it was foggy here. Really foggy. Almost all day. So during lunch, I took the Nike LearJet (OK, the X-Plane version thereof) out from Portland International for a little spin. Take-off in foggy conditions is relatively straightforward--full thrust, max rate of climb, maintain runway heading (instrument departure procedure? Nah!), and I broke out into the blue skies above at about 3,500 feet above the ground. I flew off to a clearer airport for a couple touch-and-goes, then headed back to Portland. Given the fog, an instrument approach was definitely required. I chose the ILS for runway 28R, and maneuvered the plane towards the final approach course.

Then I got lazy, something I couldn't ever do when flying instruments in the Piper Warrior I trained in: I set up a fully-coupled autopilot approach, including auto-throttles. As pilot, my job was now reduced to system monitor--I only had to choose the desired airspeed on the autopilot panel, remember to drop the flaps and gear, monitor the system's progress, and then the autopilot would take care of the rest. Just for fun, I used SnapzPro to record the approach, from the ILS intercept to touchdown, and uploaded them in case anyone wants to see X-Plane, or what a really foggy approach might look like.

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