One of my projects over the holidays at the end of 2016 was to put together a fantastic “new” flight simulator that I have on long-term loan from a friend. Why am I so excited about this (besides the fact that it’s a flight sim!)? It’s an old Aviation Simulation Technology (AST) sim – with analog circuitry running the whole thing. Now that is cool. Yes, I love my digital toys and tools! But there’s nothing quite like having an analog device do complicated and amazing things for you!

To get the thing home, I had to rent a commercial cargo van, stuffed to the gills with components and parts and drive it from Las Vegas to the San Francisco Bay Area. Even broken down into pieces, the sim took up a lot of room. Now, put back together again at my home… it takes up a good part of one of my smaller rooms. I can hear it now… if it were a modern digital device… I admit it would take up less room.

I was worried about breaking something during the drive home. Debugging that mess of wires to find what short-circuited where would have been another whole long project. Fortunately, I spent a few hours one afternoon putting all the mechanical pieces of the housing together, and then setting up the electronics and… turning on power and… ugh! Instruments thrashing around and rapidly wearing out the servo motors driving them, and radio panels showing random data. Time to take out the manual and consult with my friend, and to sleep on it and let my mind settle.
Fortunately, the next morning the only two small things I found wrong were one set of bent wires attaching a capacitor to its board and one or more boards not seated properly and somehow, somewhere making a poor connection. Got off easy!

Since then, I’ve been playing almost daily on my sim. It doesn’t have a GPS and it doesn’t have fancy graphics. But then, who needs either? I get to practice navigating solely by VORs, DME, NDBs and compass. Do you remember how to do that? Seriously, when was the last time you practiced a DME arc using only an HSI or VORs, a VOR approach, or gasp, an NDB approach?

I know, you haven’t because you don’t need to. I like RNAV too! But I sure enjoy knowing and honing my skills and truly understanding the fundamentals of navigational skills. So I do it, not because I have to, but because it’s challenging and therefore fun. If I’ve learned something or improved on a skill, it’s been a good day!