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Flying the "Real Deal"
Written By: Robert Prather - August 13, 2000


    Though I still can't believe it, I actually had the chance to fly Continental's multi-million dollar, full-motion, Class D, Boeing 777 simulator on yesterday! After a timely placed sequence of events, I and new sim builder Warren Hough got a chance to actually take the "Big Sim" for a spin at Continental Airline's sim hangar in Houston, Texas. The VP of operations at Continental Airlines, the famous Captain Debrah McCoy, apparently saw an article in the local paper about this project and gave me a personal invitation to come out and tour Continental Airline's simulator building. To add to that, they even let us fly the 777 simulator and MAN WAS IT REAL!!!

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    It took a few minutes for us to complete the checklists before we took off, but it was for the best since it gave me a chance to gather information for the Pro MFD Instruments. When we started down the runway, you could literally feel the acceleration of the aircraft as it powered up and rolled over the subtle bumps in the runway which could also be felt. The instructor, Eric Maynard called out the V speeds up until the moment it was time for me to get us airborne. When he called "rotate", I pulled back on the yoke and the aircraft made the most unbelievably smooth transition from level pitch to climbout attitude (which was at about 15 degrees of pitch). I could feel the G forces pulling me into the seat and they even caused a slight momentary headache, characteristic of excessive G's.

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    The instructor had me fly a right hand pattern to intercept the visual ILS approach for runway 26 at KIAH. Good grief, when I say the flight director tells you EVERYTHING to do. For the whole approach, I rarely ever looked at the Navigational Display, and I only glanced at the airspeed periodically to crosscheck proper operation of the autothrottle. The flight director even provided climb and decent profiles, so those two crossbars seem to be the secret to piloting the aircraft. Other than that, the aircraft handled like a dream and the control column forces were virtually constant during every phase of the flight, except when I got "Sierra Hotel" and pulled a 40 degree turn. The aircraft faught me and actually tried to roll back to 30 degrees! And all that was without authorized autopilot control authority.

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    Landing was very strange because of visual perception. I could have sworn that we were way off to the right on the approach, but I placed all my trust in the accuracy of the flight director, and surely enough, it put us right on the center line. Craziest thing though is the instructor placed the autobrake in the MAX position. WHEW!! When autobrake kicked in, Warren literraly flew out of his chair, and my Palm PC LEPT out my lap and crashed to the floor (thankfully not breaking!). The aircraft was able to stop in only 3 - 4 thousand feet of runway!! Though that type of landing is probably not very comfortable to passengers.

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    Once my flight was over, Warren took over and he flew basically the same pattern. He did great, but I think the fact that he was flying a $13 million dollar device kinda threw him for a second during approach :) But, once he landed, we had the fortunate opprtunity to sit in on a simulated engine failure with the instructor and another individual at the controls. When the aircraft reached 120 knots, which just happened to be right at rotation, the left engine completely died. Strangest thing though is that you barely even feel the engine die. The instructor was explaining to me that the built in Thrust Assymetry Control is designed so well that Boeing had to purposely program the TAC system to only eliminate some 90% or so of the assymetry. Otherwise, as I noticed, you could loose an engine at 31,000 feet and never even realize it! As you can see in the adjacent picture, the left throttle is closed and the left autothrottle has been disabled. The instructor is currently going through the appropriate abnormal checklist to setup the aircraft for a single engine situation.

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    After the dead engine landing, that was virtually no different than a regular landing, we taxied in to the terminal and shut the aircraft down. The hydraulic platform came to a rest and the bridge lowered to give us access back to the real world, which was suddenly a lot more boring.  But at least I have the memories!

Interesting Facts I learned during the tour:

  • The graphics in the sim are virutally identical to the commercially available flight simulator, X-Plane. No more simple polygons in the big sims!
  • The seats in the 777 cost $50,000 a piece!!
  • Continental has two of each simulator (for most airplanes). One is an FTD (Fixed training device) and the other is a full motion simulator.
  • It takes a full room of computers to power and control each simulator.
  • It looks as if the windows of the sim were Fresnel lenses, used to increase the apparent dimensions of the visual display.
  • The "Big Boys" don't have ATC.. lol! So be sure to thank Jason Grooms and Joe Jureka for the marvelous squawkbox and Pro Controller applications!

Click Here to check out the other pictures..

    Also a HUGE thanks to Katy Pusch of Continental Airlines for arranging everything! We can't thank you enough!

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