The MIG-21 Full Motion Simulator  

This story unfolds in the waning years of the 2nd millenium, in a country far, far away. It was the afternoon of a hot summer day - hot enough to empty the streets and to slow down activities in my office to a snail's pace. I looked at the heaps of papers on my desk, wondering when I would muster the strengh to go through them. Suddenly the phone rang. A business friend was on the line, but business was not on his mind today. His invitation - while not completely unexpected - still startled me when if finally came: A chance to fly a full motion MIG-21 simulator, located at a military aviation training facility less than an hour away! What an alternative to spending the rest of the afternoon mulling over those papers...

The country I am writing about had been behind the iron curtain for decades, off-limits to westerners . And the place I was invited to on that hot summer day had been even more off-limits. So without further ado I hopped into my car and drove to the address I had been given. Even though my arrival must have been annouced, it took some time before the gun-slinging guards at the front gate could be convinced that I was harmless. Finally I was allowed into the facility.

 

What struck me immediately was the sheer size of the place. Not only the simulator on its pneumatic actuators is big, but the additional equipment - aparently all required to make it work - fills a huge hall.

There was a separate room for the hydraulic pumps, another one for the a/c units and a control room full of computers. The whole setup probably consumes as much power as a small village. I counted a service crew of five: three in the control room, a mechanic and the boss of the facility, a grumpy old guy in civilian clothes. But his postrue and way of speaking gave him away: he must have been if the business of flying military jets for decades...

Once inside the simulator's cabin, things looked amazingly familiar: A big, curved screen for outside views, the image delivered by three immense 3-tube projectors build into the ceiling.

In front of the screen the cockpit section of the MIG-21 fuselage, very similar to my own setup. Even the aluminum ladder for easy access to the cockpit was there!

Once I had climbed inside, I felt right at home. I admit that there were even more switches and dials than in my cockpit, and the function of many panels completely eluded me - but it did not take me long to locate the main instruments (all steam gauges) and the levers for flaps and gear.

Flying the jet was surprisingly easy, even though all that thrust the Tumanski-R-25 turbine delivers must be used with deliberation.

What turned out to be very difficult was navigation. I was not familiar with the MIG's navigation system and quickly got lost. So I asked for vectors back to the airport and set up for a very long visual approach. Again, correct thrust settings are the key to controling the jet during decent.

To cut a long story short: I managed to land on the first attempt - not a controlled crash, but a greaser!

They guy who runs the simulator site - he turned out to be a retired pilot with more than 6.000 hours of flying time on the MIG - came out of the control room and asked me how often I had flown in the simulator before.

His question, of course, made my day.