Monday, July 23, 2018

Simulation by Roger Ley

A retired doctor indulges his new hobby by going on an alarmingly realistic flight simulator; by Roger Ley.

Retirement hung heavily on Martin Riley. He’d had his time as an important government scientist, with meetings to attend, reports to write and a team of scientists to oversee. Now it was all over, and he had little to fill his time. His wife Estella had her bridge games, tennis, coffee mornings and the grandchildren. Riley was thrown onto his own resources and found that he didn’t have many ideas once he’d redecorated their retirement bungalow and dug a fishpond.

‘It doesn’t matter what you used to do, it’s what you do now, Martin. Retirement’s a great leveller,’ said Estella, when he came in sweating from mowing the lawn and sat drinking tea in the kitchen.

‘You can’t just sit there looking hangdog. Decide what you want to do and then get on with it.’ So, no sympathy there.

Riley had always wanted to fly a big aeroplane. He’d done some gliding when he was a teenager, in the Air Training Corps, but what he really fancied was a nice big, fat, passenger jet. He looked into flight simulator programs for his laptop, found one for the Airbus A320 and quickly learned to use it. He spent many hours flying simulated take-offs and landings at various airports around the world. It didn’t seem worth bothering with the long flight in between, the autopilot was used for most of that on real flights. Eventually, just as he was becoming bored with the software, he saw an advert for a “full motion flight simulator experience” at his local airport. Professional pilots used the simulator for assessments and training for new aircraft, but there was spare capacity, so flying enthusiasts like him could hire it. It was expensive, but he decided to spoil himself and booked a session.

The company sent him an airport pass and a pair of Captain’s epaulets with their four stripes when he paid for the course. They advised him that, to make the experience even more realistic, he should wear a white uniform shirt, dark trousers and black shoes.

Estella walked in on him as he admired his new persona in the bedroom mirror. He wasn’t put off by her sarcastic comments, he knew he looked convincing. It was only when he arrived at the airport, in uniform and carrying a black briefcase with his coffee, sandwiches and newspaper in it, that the full effect of the uniform became apparent. He showed his pass at security and was ushered through the crew gate. The security man addressed him as ‘Captain’ and gave him directions to the simulator area. He was a little confused, but after wandering the corridors for a few minutes he found himself walking down a narrow sloping corridor with a smiling flight attendant waiting for him at the far end. She stepped to the right, blocking his view into the cabin, and gestured for him to enter the ‘flight deck.’

‘Good morning Captain, we’re all ready, the passengers are boarded and their seat belts checked.’

Riley allowed himself a smile and a casual salute as he stepped through into the ‘cockpit.’

‘Good morning Captain, I’m David Parlett,’ said the other occupant. He was dressed as a first officer, only three stripes on his shoulders, and seemed too young to be an instructor. ‘I’ve finished the outside checks, I’m ready to do the pre-take-off checks with you; air traffic control estimate there’ll be a slot for us in ten minutes.’

Riley smiled to himself, he hadn’t expected things to be so authentic. He tried to play the part of the confident professional as he strapped himself in and quietly marvelled at the view out of the cockpit windows. He knew they were computer simulations, but they were very convincing.

‘Okay, number one,’ he said as he picked up the checklist. ‘Let’s get on with it.’ He hadn’t bothered with the pre-flight checklist when he was at home, but it was straight forward. Five minutes later they were ready to go. His co-pilot talked quietly to air traffic control, while he dealt with the pushback and then brought the engines up to speed. He taxied the Airbus across the apron and lined it up at the end of the runway.

‘Permission to take-off, Captain,’ said his second in command. He pushed the levers forward to full throttle, and they were barrelling down the runway. What a ride, he thought as the acceleration pushed them back into their seats. Soon the rattling and vibrations eased as they lifted away. Riley was amazed at the authenticity of it all.

‘Very convincing,’ he said. Parlett gave him a puzzled smile.

They climbed for some minutes and Riley realised that he hadn’t chosen a destination. ‘What’s the heading, number one?’ he asked.

Parlett read the numbers from his chart. Riley looked over and saw that they were going to Zurich. He banked gently onto the heading, trimmed the aircraft for straight-and-level flight then flipped on the autopilot. He sat back with a sigh and linked his hands behind his head.

‘Well, that wasn’t too difficult, was it?’ he said. The second officer smiled.

‘I haven’t seen you in the company offices, Captain.’

Riley played along. ‘I’m a newbie, I was with Ryanair for twenty-five years.’

His underling nodded and began filling in his logbook. Suddenly there was a loud blow to the security door that separated the cockpit from the cabin. Both men jumped. They could hear muffled shouting. Riley heard one of the flight attendants yelling in his headphones.

‘There are three men with guns, Captain. They’ve taken over the plane. One of them is trying to get into the cockpit.’ The young woman was shouting. There was a pause of several minutes. ‘He’s got Sheila, he says he’ll shoot her if you don’t open the door.’

Riley looked at Parlett. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked. ‘I didn’t sign up for this, there was no mention of hijacking or terrorists.’

‘What do you mean, Captain Crosby?’ he asked.

‘Crosby? My name’s Riley, I’m here for a full motion flight simulation experience.’

There was a muffled explosion on the other side of the door. A female voice in his headphones screamed, ‘They’ve shot Sheila, there’s blood everywhere, help us, Captain, open the door or they’ll shoot us all.’

‘What should we do?’ asked Riley.

‘You’re the bloody captain, you tell me.’

‘We’ll keep the door shut, turn around and head back to Norwich.’

‘Whatever you say, Captain.’ Parlett switched off the autopilot, banked the plane onto a new heading.

There was another muffled explosion and a new voice in his headphones, a man’s voice with a thick foreign accent. ‘You turn the plane and head for Libya or we kill another of your crew. Do it now, Captain.’

‘Okay, Libya it is, we’re changing course now,’ he said into his microphone.

‘Why are we going down? You want play games?’ Another loud retort. ‘No more crew now, Captain, I shoot one passenger every five minutes if you play games.’

‘Okay, but I need to lose altitude in case of depressurization. It’s the procedure if weapons are discharged. We’ll level off once we get below fifteen thousand feet.’

He looked over at his co-pilot. ‘Level off at five thousand feet and radio ahead. We need the emergency services and the military.’

‘What’s the plan, Captain?’

‘We’re going to keep the door shut and land the plane as fast as we can, then leave the army to handle the terrorists.’

‘But what about the passengers? They’ll be shooting them in the meantime.’

‘I think this is the best option, if we go along with the hijackers we might all be killed.’

Parlett smiled, he reached forward and threw a switch among the array on the instrument panel. The vibration of the plane in flight stopped, as did the noise of the engines, the clouds outside the plane stopped moving. ‘Well, you came through that with flying colours, Dr Riley. Would you like to handle the landing at Norwich or would you prefer another airport? Manchester’s quite interesting.’

Riley was speechless at first and needed a drink of water. ‘There was nothing about this in the booklet,’ he spluttered.

‘Well, it would have spoiled the surprise, wouldn’t it? There’s more to flying a plane than pushing a few buttons and pulling a few levers. The most important skill is decision-making.’

Riley ‘landed’ the plane at Norwich ten minutes later. Sheila took the requisite pictures of Riley and Parlett smiling at the camera with the instrument panel in the background, although Riley had to try hard to look cheerful. He accepted a handshake and a certificate from Parlett, together with a wide smile from Sheila, and made his way out to the car park. Sitting in the car he phoned Estella. He noticed that his legs were still shaking slightly.

‘Good flight, how did it go?’ she asked cheerily.

‘It was somewhat more realistic than I expected,’ he said. ‘As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of taking up golf. Perhaps we could do it together?’

8 comments:

  1. Real rock and roll- a great pacey story with plenty of laughs and a worthy strands of tension, Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Thanks Ceinwen, there are more of my published stories at rogerleywrites.blogspot.com

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  3. Clever. I thought he had got on a real flight by mistake. Of course, if any business did this the clients would sue them for trauma.

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  4. This story is partly biographical, in that I did have a session on a simulator and I did land a virtual 737 full of virtual passengers but not, unfortunately, on the virtual runway.

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  5. As realistic as the simulation itself. Well crafted with a believable narrative arc.

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  6. The characters in the story are borrowed from my time travel novel 'Chronoscape.' Martin Riley and his wife Estella are the protagonists.

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  7. One of his top stories. I was going back and forth, guessing about the plot. Good pace, excellent suspense.

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