The man who stole a plane from Sea-Tac Airport Friday didn't have a pilot's license.
How could he have learned to fly? I went to flight school to find out.
I got some time in a flight simulator at Aviation Training Center in Renton near the airport. Lead pilot Spence Campbell took me through the steps of flying a Bombardier Q400, like the one Richard Russell took.
We took off from Sea-Tac. We flew around for a little bit got to try some of the aerial stunts and really just experience what the simulation is like.”
In conversations with air traffic control on Friday, Russell mentioned time with video games – not full-on flight simulators.
But he still was able to take off, fly for over an hour, and even performing a barrel roll before he crashed.
Can video games really provide enough training? Yes, says Charlie Hall, a senior reporter with Polygon, a gaming news website.
“They're no longer video games,” Hall said. “They require specialized expertise. They require a lot of practice, and a lot of patience.”
Hall said virtual reality systems at home have also upped the realism.
Of course, a dedicated flight simulator offers some advantages. There are screens all around, providing a 180-degree view. It really feels like you're sitting in a cockpit of a plane.
Pilots can choose just about any aircraft and pick any airport in the world. For example, we took off from Cuba. But it wasn't easy.
I was barely able to keep the plane in the air, and Spence had to help me out a couple of times to recover. We tried a couple of the tricks and rolls that we saw in the footage of Russell that he performed in the Q400, and I was unable to do them.
I think I'll stick to radio for now.