Microsoft Flight Simulator
September 12, 2001 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft Flight Simulator From the Theory-Of-The-Moment Dept: Is it possible to use Microsoft Flight Simulator as a training tool for terrorists?
posted by BarneyFifesBullet (19 comments total)
Yeah it is. My girlfriend's father is one of the senior pilots for Delta and he says Flight Simulator is TOTALLY like flying those Big Birds.
posted by ericdano at 12:12 PM on September 12, 2001

The scary thing is this: MS Flight Sim is *useless* if one wants to learn to fly a Cessna.

If one wanted to learn how to steer an allready-airborne 767 into the most prominent building in Manhatten, MS Flight Sim would be perfect.

It sounds like whoever did this may have been a trained pilot but an airplane is amazingly easy to fly once it is in the air. If you're not concerned about the comfort and safety of the passengers or the safety of the aircraft, it is even eaiser.

Manhatten would be visible half an hour outside of Boston. IFR Navaids, flaps, landing gear, and most of the plane's other systems would not be needed. You just aim for the island, aim for the building, line up, and bang.

1% of flying is learning how to work the controls. The other 99% is learning how not to kill yourself, your passengers, and the people on the ground. If that 99% doesn't concern you could learn it in a weekend.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on September 12, 2001

what about navigating the planes? how would they find their targets once in the air?
posted by ignu at 12:13 PM on September 12, 2001

but don't forget bondcliff, they successfully descended from 29,000 feet down to about 1,000 to strike the building, which from all pilot accounts isn't an easy thing to do for pilots much less civilians. Also note they successfully disabled the transponders that reported their position. I think it takes more than a few hours behind a PC to learn how to do that.
posted by mathowie at 12:15 PM on September 12, 2001

This article in Slate details this topic: How Good Were the World Trade Center Pilots?
posted by ao4047 at 12:28 PM on September 12, 2001

Interesting theory, but I find it a little far-fetched. I think that this is over-simplifying the logistics of what happened. I believe the evidence will point to a well thought-out, heavily planned operation that had been in the works for quite some time.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 12:35 PM on September 12, 2001

Also please note that the 2nd plane did a minor correction right before it hit the building. If the pilot had not made that correction, the plane would have hit the corner of the building, which would mean that a part of the plane would have broken off and crashed into something else.

The correction also maximized the damage, and the plane hit the building at an angle, thereby hitting more floors.
posted by riffola at 12:35 PM on September 12, 2001

A transponder has an on/off swich. It doesn't take rocket science to turn it off, you just need to know hwere it is on the panel. It's not the high-tech gizmo the news would lead you to believe. All it does is report a 4-digit code and your alltitude to radar. When a plane is hijacked, the pilot sets the transponder to 7600 and an alert is given when the tower picks up the signal on the next radar pass.

To descend in an airplane you throttle down. That's about it.

Granted, I've flown Cessnas, not 767s, but all airplanes opperate on the same principle: Pitch of the nose and airspeed.

As for navigation, if you can see it, you can aim for it. These planes turned near Western MA. One even followed the Hudson River Valley which is how you would get to NYC if you were flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Most planes now have moving-map GPS on them now so navigation has become much like a video game. Traditional IFR NavAids (VORs, ADFs, etc) would not be needed.

It does sound like these were trained pilots, and I certainly don't want to belittle what commercial pilots do. A jet of any type is a very complex hunk of machinery that takes years to learn to fly safely.

But just like any 16 year old can learn to play "Smoke on the Water" on a guitar if he really works at it, anybody could be easily trained to carry out this attack if they were trained for just this one event.
posted by bondcliff at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2001

And yes, hotdoughnutsnow, I'm not saying these terrorists were trained on MS Flight Sim, just that this kind of an attack would not necessaraly take the years of training a normal 767 pilot would have.
posted by bondcliff at 12:39 PM on September 12, 2001

This is possibly a moot conversation, since the people being interviewed by the FBI today may have trained with the suspected terrorists in real flight schools in Florida.
posted by briank at 1:30 PM on September 12, 2001

I'm less disturbed by terrorists using Flight Sim than maladjusted 14-year-old computer geeks, using the brand new MS FLight Sim 2002 to smash repeatedly into the twin towers. Of course, we can hope the towers won't be in the new edition, but...
posted by kevspace at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2001

I'd say something about Flight Sim being okay, if like other MS products, you don't mind the crashing, but then perhaps that's what they were after.

OK, that's just not right...
posted by fooljay at 2:35 PM on September 12, 2001

I'm less disturbed by terrorists using Flight Sim than maladjusted 14-year-old computer geeks, using the brand new MS FLight Sim 2002 to smash repeatedly into the twin towers.

Crashing into things is just about the first thing anyone tries with a flight simulator. This won't change. I used to work for a guy who'd fire up MS Flight Simulator on his laptop during commercial flights and repeatedly crash a simulated jet into the ground, on purpose, just to watch how those around him would react. He was a bit of an ass, true, but he is hardly alone.
posted by kindall at 2:43 PM on September 12, 2001

This is possibly a moot conversation, since the people being interviewed by the FBI today may have trained with the suspected terrorists in real flight schools in Florida.

But I saw something on one of the FS pages about the sim being used in training schools in Florida.

I can't access it now because I"m at work and that site is blocked.

There's other stuff around like this, and
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 4:11 PM on September 12, 2001

I too have crashed into the WTC in Microsoft Flight Sim

on purpose when I was flying around Manhatten.

That's how I first thought of someone using it to study how to fly a plane into a building on purpose.

I know it takes extensive training to fly.

How much training would it take to take the controls of a plane in the air and steer it toward a target?

Also, I would assume the WTC would be easy to see from a distance on a sunny, clear day.

But, hey, I defer to those of you with real air time.
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 4:18 PM on September 12, 2001

The largest 737 (not including new models) is smaller and possesses half the thrust of the smallest 757, so your test may not be accurate.

But just for a second test -- try aiming the 737 on your sim for a corner of the WTC Tower 2 (seeing as WTC Tower 1 is already on fire), and at the last possible moment (about 5 seconds to impact, say), make a correction so as to ram into just the face.
posted by linux at 10:53 PM on September 12, 2001

You guys are also forgetting the physical effects of dropping 28000 feet so rapidly. There had to be some discomfort, which may have led lesser skilled pilots to oversteer, no?
posted by fooljay at 8:53 AM on September 13, 2001

I had the 2.0 version of FlightSim back in 1985 and I've had every version since then. Every inaugural flight I took involved crashing the Cessna 172 into the Hancock building with a good, sharp left turn out of Meigs field. It became traditional.

I won't be doing that anymore, but I also managed to crash the Cessna into the WTC, Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

Having flown Cessnas in realspace, and every jet simulator I could get my hands on, I can shed some light on this.

1) If you have the GPS coordinates, the plane will fly itself to wherever you want it to go. If you're on manual, you can actually get voice cues from the cockpit. 767s and 757s are "glass cockpit" aircraft. Highly computerized, with a lower learning curve to fly.

2) If your approach speed to anything is low enough, (say 160 kts - which is not much above stall speed, depending on altitude) you can maneuver pretty well with slight touches to the controls. First-gen 757s steered like trucks - now, they are quite responsive.

3) Descent from 29000 to 1000 can be achieved by turning a dial and telling the plane to go there. Literally. And it will get there in a damn hurry if you up your descent rate. The plane won't allow the automated systems to exceed stress limits, either. You have to do that manually. In the process, you overload the wing and break it off.

FlightSafety International (which, ironically, trained JFK Jr. to fly as well, but irrelevant for now) is widely considered one of the best commerical aviation academies in the world. Had I been able to swing the tuition (some $40K for what they call ab initio training I'd have been a student there. Most commercial pilots have taken at least one recertification there through the airline they work for.

With training from FlightSafety, you can fly damn near anything but a fighter, in my opinion.
posted by TeamBilly at 8:30 AM on September 14, 2001

Even if one chooses to ignore this positive message for the youth of America, I still have a major problem with the ideas being laid out here. I think the word for it is "principle".

I just started coming to grips with the fact that some insane geniuses came up with the idea to hijack a bunch of planes and use them as frickin' wrecking balls, and now that they've died and proven how damn smooth they are, I have to once again sit through the age-old debate of violence in videogames? At least this time there's a twist to it, and the game in question was not intended to be violent.

Terrorism is just the next generation of what they used to call "war". First there were men with guns, then there were tanks, then planes, then cruise missiles. Nowadays, war has evolved beyond its own old weaponry and battlefields and become a game of global chess, played with whatever (and whoever) you can get your hands (or other appendages) on. There are no more uniforms; all the chess pieces are dark gray. There are no more rules; all pieces may be able to move freely, with a little luck and stealth. And the kings are just really big pawns, as are their predictable reactions to current events.

Before reading further, bear in mind that I don't normally side with Microsoft.

What in the hell conclusion is this argument designed to reach? That flight simulators should be banned or unrealistic? If a terrorist can so easily learn to fly the plane they're on, can any of the damn passengers? If the flight sim is to "blame", think about this: how many civilians play flight sims? What are the odds that one of them will end up needing those "skillz" on a flight someday? If games are not held responsible, what other excuses will we fall back on before we admit a minor defeat? Did the terrorists have any Marilyn Manson on their person?

While I don't like what happened, or the fact that it has happened, it has happened. They were on top of their game and nobody knew enough to know that they were the chess pieces that needed to be captured. And that's what modern war is all about: innovation. Not the knee-jerk reactions that this country is practically famous for. (That's the only reason I can think of for the constant re-animation of the just-as-constantly dead argument over violence in videogames.)

If a potential terrorist can get into this country and purchase a flight sim, all they need to take professional training classes is more money, which will come from whoever is sponsoring the act. Blanket disapproval of the tools, before the terrorists, will get us nowhere. We built the tools for ourselves. They just happened to get their hands on them.
posted by iamrobotandproud at 3:58 AM on September 15, 2001

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