The Friendly Skies

This is a screen shot from Microsoft Flight Simulator 95.1. It’s a Lear 45 bizjet ready to depart on Runway 36 from Meigs Field in Chicago, the default opening flight of the program, which has University of Illinois roots. Weather conditions were often marginal at this short field stuck on a man-made island in Lake Michigan, plus big condo buildings kept creeping closer to the approach from the north, so you could say it was a bit unsafe. Richard M. Daley wanted to turn it into a park. He kept getting the runaround from the FAA on that, so he had crews go out in the middle of the night and barricade the runway, figuring the big Xs at both ends would be enough warning for unaware pilots. But then the Daleys are a very long tale.

The graphics in 95.1 seem primitive now, but this version was a major advance in home simulators. It came with a big book of navigation info that could get you anywhere in the world, or maybe that was extra.

Anyway, I was hooked, spending many a late night in front of the Hewlitt Packard Pentium II in my basement alcove, flying to Quito or Hong Kong or London. Off in my own little world. As you can see above, it takes a little imagination. It may even seem just a little childish.

More than once, little me wanted something like this Playmobile for Christmas.

My younger brother got one. I think I might have let him play with it. Versions of this concept remain today. Melissa and Doug sell one. They say it’s great for three to seven years olds. Huh. Henry Orenstein, a Holocaust survivor with a genius for the child mind, came up with his Playmobile in 1960. I would have been eight or nine by then, but who can doubt that Melissa and Doug’s kids are more gifted than we were? Other toy lines Henry developed include Suzy Homemaker and Transformers.

Imaginary travel. Definitely a carrot to dangle in front of a child, but there was much more to the genius at work here. Yes, the world was your oyster in the Playmobile, but the absolute pearl in that oyster was–you had the wheel.

Things progress. this is FS 2020:

You can start the plane cold by flashlight and go through the checklists. You can build a flight plan and communicate with air traffic control and the tower. You can join virtual airlines and fly real-world routes in a mix of real-world and/or artificial traffic, communicating with live simulation controllers.

Or you can just spool up, release the brakes, rotate at VR speed, establish positive rate of climb, raise the gear, raise the flaps when indicated, engage Flight Level Change mode at 240 knots, get up above the terrain, and turn left for Palm Springs or Sedona.

It’s all up to you. Sixty years later, that still seems to do it for me.

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