I watched the movie “Space Cowboys” this weekend. Watching Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones flying the space shuttle reminded me of the time I got to fly a shuttle simulator.
Several years ago I loaded the family up in my Cessna and we flew down to NASA’s Johnson Space Center outside of Houston Texas. You know, the “Houston we have a problem” place! Hallowed halls! We stepped into the front door of the museum and in an alcove off to the left they had about a dozen Space Shuttle simulators set up. I immediately veered left as my son rolled his eyes. Even he knew that was as far as we were going until I got my fix!
There was a pretty good line in front of each simulator so I got in the shortest line. All told there are well over a hundred people in all the lines, it was popular attraction. (of course it was, this place is Mecca for nerds!)
Over each shuttle simulator they have a big screen TV so you can see how all the other people flying are doing while you are in line. I was watching and EVERY ONE was crashing! The computer would flash in big red letters “YOU DIED!” I kept watching to see if anyone could pull it off. Absolutley every one was crashing so I vowed I would be the first to land this thing in one piece. After all, I am a pilot I told my self without a trace of humility! :)
So I finally got my turn. They start you off at 20,000 feet and you have to fly the approach to the field and land. The flight director will tell you where to go and if you are on track or not. (just like a standard plane with the right equipment) So I was able to fly the approach very well because other than the glide ratio it flew just like my Cessna. I am getting very close to the runway and I am already mentally celebrating! No one else I watched made it this far! HA!
I was over the end of the runway but still at 200 foot and the flight director started telling me to pull up for landing. Planes almost always land with the nose in the air. I was thinking, no way! 200 foot was too high to get into landing position. I did not want to pull the nose up, run out of airspeed and stall it now! I’ll pull up in a few more seconds!
So, a couple of seconds later I did start to pull the nose up and then WHAM! I hit the “ground”! Since I did have the nose up and we were on the runway the computer said we lived but the shuttle would never fly again. So I was crushed that I did not land it successfully but I could take a little solace in that I did not get the big red YOU DIED message.
I figured out what went wrong pretty quick. In my Cessna I sit about as high off the ground as you would when you are in a pick up truck. However in the shuttle you are like 30 foot above the ground at rest and when the nose is up for landing you would be like 70 or 80 feet above the ground at touchdown. So the flight director was right! I should have started getting the nose up at 200 foot. I work on computers, so I don’t trust them at all but it was right this time!
Ok, I am getting back in line and with that tidbit of knowledge I WILL land the shuttle next time by God! I was still watching and no one else had landed without a YOU DIED yet so I still had a chance to be the first to make a landing where they could use the shuttle again!
I worked my way back to the front of the line and this time I pulled up at 200 foot and I set her down nice and dainty! The big screen flashed “PERFECT LANDING” in white over and over! I was looking around to make sure people noticed my perfect landing!
HA! I was feeling good! I was feeling cocky! I was doing a little celebration dance! Yeah buddy! I am the only one here who can handle this piece of equipment. I am the pinnacle of evolution! Yes, I have the Right Stuff! Yeee haw! (I am the alpha geek!) I can’t wait to hang out with Chuck Yeager!
Then a little reality set in and I told my self, “You know dude, you probably should not be too cocky. I mean, seriously, you are probably the only pilot here.... Well, OK, face it dude, you are the only adult here.
Who cares! IN YOUR FACE KIDS!