It’s not every day that you are given the chance to fly an airplane, so when the Let’s Go Flying initiative presented the opportunity to us, several GI editors expressed interest.

In a completely non-scientific capacity, editor Jeff Cork and I stepped up to the plate to see if our varying degrees of experience with flight simulators would give one an edge over the other. 

Last Thursday we spent the day at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, touring the Hummingbird Aviation facilities and learning about the degree to which flight simulation technology is used in modern pilot programs. And yes, we both eventually ended up in the air, taking control of a Jabiru J170.

Check out the video below for a detailed look at our experience in the sky.


Back on solid ground at the GI offices, Jeff and I took some time to expand upon our experience in the air.

Jeff’s Take
Somewhere between the time the tiny plane’s front and rear tires lifted off the ground I realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

I enjoy flying, both in games and ordinary life. In a typical year, I log in around 75,000 miles, between trips to Japan, Europe and California. I don’t get nervous when I board planes. I sneer at people who grip their armrests during turbulence. Amateurs. But as the nose of the plane I was piloting lifted up, shaking slightly, I wanted to be anywhere else on earth than in that cramped cockpit. Maybe a dance recital. Perhaps a carpet store. Really, anywhere else sounded great. Why the hell was I doing this?

Meagan set up this little adventure as an experiment. Would my years of playing flight sims make me a better pilot in real life? I’m probably as casual as you can get with the genre, but I’ve played on everything from Flight Simulator II on an Apple II to a pod used to train Air Force fighter pilots. Surely some of this would come in handy, right?

Well, once that initial terror subsided (almost immediately after we were in the air), I was pleased to see how easy flying was. Unlike the pedals I’ve used in computer simulations, rudder controls in the actual aircraft required much more pressure. The stick wasn’t as touchy, either, and making simple maneuvers like banked turns and climbs silky smooth. If anything, if games controlled as well as that little plane they would almost be too easy. (We didn’t have to fly through any rings, however.)

During the 30-minute flight, the instructor said that it was pretty clear that I had some kind of familiarity with aviation basics. He did take over briefly during the landing (both of us wanted to live), but it was all me for the majority of the flight. Do I credit flight games for what limited skills I possessed? Sure. Would I do it again? Absolutely. (The takeoff is still completely horrifying, though!)

Meagan’s Take

There’s a good reason I made Jeff go first on this little adventure – simply put, I’ve only recently gotten over a debilitating fear of flying. When you travel as much as we do in this line of work, eventually the unfounded fears dissipate. Still, I never in my life would have guessed that I would fly a plane, let alone be put in the position by my own accord. I knew that if I let the opportunity pass I would kick myself at a later date. Jeff seemed to survive the encounter just fine, so I figured I was safe enough.

As for my experience with flight games, I never really got the hang of them. I remember trying to best even a single lap in Bravo Air Race and always failing, never getting the slightest grip of the basic controls. Trying more modern games with advanced peripherals didn’t improve my understanding of aviation basics. I would always crash and burn. This being said, I should have been more terrified than I was when we walked onto the tarmac at Flying Cloud Airport, especially after seeing the tin can (no offense intended) that we would fly in. I didn’t know that planes came that small. 

But as I knew all along, the experienced staff took care of me and the lesson went off without a hitch. Jeff was right though – the takeoff was the most terrifying sixty seconds of my life. Once in the air, everything went swimmingly. As I mentioned briefly in the video, the most bizarre aspect of flying was how much more comfortable I was watching the various dials on the dash than the nose on the plane. I often would think I was flying level, only to find I was still slightly climbing. The digital interface made much more sense to me and I was able to use it to determine how many degrees I need to bank or how much I needed to adjust the stick to make the plane level.

I was also quite surprised to learn how easy controlling the plane was. Not to say I could have survived in any capacity on my own, but the basic controls were simple enough. Navigating with my feet on the tarmac was a bit foreign feeling, especially when  jolted to full throttle when taking off. But once in the air, banking and controlling the altitude was easy enough. I think the biggest surprise for me was the amount of resistance it took to move the stick. Because of the various gaming peripherals I had tried in the past, I thought that the controls would be very touchy – that if I sneezed and accidently pushed the stick forward the plane would careen out of control. But every movement I made was deliberate.

We were up in the air for a good half an hour, all of which I flew. The instructor took over for the landing, though, perhaps picking up on my anxiety at the thought of touching down on my own. I didn’t push the instructor too hard when receiving my “grade” once back on the ground, but I have no problem conceding that Jeff was more comfortable and familiar with flying than I was. Even with his slight advantage, I would go for another lesson in a heartbeat.

Contact information

If you’ve ever had the urge to take flight lessons, the outlets below are sure to provide a good opportunity.

Let’s Go Flying
Let’s Go Flying is a new program launched by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to encourage aspiring pilots to take to the sky for personal, business or career purposes. The website offers up information as well as a database of over 3,500 flight schools nationwide – that’s how we got in contact with the folks at Hummingbird Aviation.

Hummingbird Aviation
If you are local (Minnesota), and want to meet up with the folks that showed us the skies, Hummingbird Aviation is always open for new business. You can get more information via their website or call 952-944-2628 to chat about flight times.