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My love with aircraft started way back in 1967 when I was 9 years old. My father, a keen cueist spent all his spare time playing Billiards at the Airport Recreation Club, where the senior pilots of Air Ceylon used to play. These guys were also flight instructors of the Govt. Flying School situated next to the Club.

On Sundays, he used to go to the club early; and I was all kitted up before him to enjoy rides in the jump-seat while the trainee pilots did nothing but practicing take-offs and landings until about 2 PM.

I would stay strapped to my jump-seat for well over 3 hours and observed everything that went on in the cockpit in front - from the hand-cranking of the propeller to setting take-off & landing configurations.

Depending on the wind direction of the day we would either take-off West over the sea and come in to land after circling the Bolgoda Lake to the East or vice-versa.

When the Pilots and the Mechanics were not around I would sneak into the hanger, sit in the cockpit and try the control surfaces myself!

At the time the Flying School posessed a couple of Auster trainer aircraft  an ancient de Havilland Tiger Moth Bi-Plane  (used for aerobatics - no chance of getting into one for a flight with its tandem cockpit), a  Beechcraft Baron  and later, by courtesy of the Indian President V.V.Giri a Pushpak Trainer

All these aircraft were lost over the ensuing period of time and the flying school itself went out of existance; not before it produced the first generation of senior Captains who flew later for the national carrier, Air Lanka.

Interesting point to note here is that a flying lesson of 1 Hour cost only Rs. 60/- in the late '60s when petrol price was around Rs. 6.50 a gallon...

Anyway, when I wanted to fly in 1975, I needed Rs. 35,000/- net to get into the flying school.. and we simply could not afford it...

However, by 1975 I had read enough about airframes, aerodynamics, types of engines and simple avionics; thanks to the vast amount of books that were available on this subject at the USIS / American Centre.

Today I relive that dream in the form of MS Flight Simulator.

I have followed the MSFS since the first edition came out in 1987 which featured just one plane, a Cessna 172-SP and sparse terrain around the Sea-Tac Airport.

The current version has global terrain in every minute detail that one could describe Hong Kong skyline without even ever having to be there. It also has all kinds of aircraft from Gliders to Boing-747 Super Jumbos.

The navigational support is the most beautiful feature of the later editions. The earlier editions came with VOR/DME and NDBs. The current editions have ILS (Instrument Landing System); complete ATC (Air Traffic Control) communication as well as realtime weather online.

What I enjoy most is the flight-planning stage rather than actually flying the aircraft. The Flight-Planner tasks you to study the route between airports, set your waypoints, note down the VOR/DME, NDB, and the ILS frequencies to help navigate the aircraft.

The aircraft manuals have detailed info with regards to V1, Vrotation, Flap settings and approch configurations for each aircraft.

Needless to say, landing a 747 with manual throttle requires a genius sitting on just a computer in the living room. The best bet is to have the 747 on Auto-throttle and Autopilot to do the honours of landing while you monitor the airspeed, flap settings, auto-brake and do the general communications with the tower while coming in.

By some quirk of fate I happened to self study navigation way back in 1972 when I was 14 years old; that is with a book, Teach Yourself Navigation from the well known series.

To do this I had to construct my own chart on a brown paper and my Grandfather's drawing board, T-Ruler and set-squares came in handy here. The old man, Makalandege Joseph de Silva who had been drawing buildings and houses on that board for nearly 50 years was amused to see what I was doing with lines and arcs that connected to Lighthouses and Fixes!

Today, many people are sceptical that an old man like me could fit into the GPS age... I started early in life and grew up with navigation... as I had rightly guessed early in my life, navigation is not simple 2-D location but a 3-D awareness of your situation like being on an aircraft or a submarine...


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