So back flying aircraft, albeit in a simulation, I thought I’d show the differing types of panels a pilot is likely to come across in general aviation aircraft. Let’s start with the modern Cessna 172SP…

This panel has a layout of instruments common to most modern aircraft often referred to as the ‘Standard T’ because the key instruments are mounted together in a T configuration. If you look at the dials above the control column to the left of centre you will see in the top row (left to right) the Air Speed Indicator, Artificial Horizon and Altimeter. These critical gauges tell you how fast, how level and how high. Immediately below the Artificial Horizon (AH) is the Direction Indicator (DI) – that tells the direction you are flying in and forms the base of the T. That’s not to say that the instruments either side are not important, just less so. On the left is the Turn and Slip indicator – it’s a guide to how well you are flying but also a key back-up to the Artificial Horizon when there is a vacuum failure – it’s electrically powered. To the right of the DI is the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) which is air pressure driven – again, it’s a guide but is also a key back-up for the AH when the vacuum fails. Finally, below the VSI is the rev-counter for the engine. Although important, this instrument isn’t normally part of your basic scan even when flying in cloud because once set it shouldn’t change unless you forgot to adjust the throttle friction;-) To the extreme left are the engines and systems gauges – fuel, oil, vacuum, etc. To the right of the T are the navigation instruments associated with the avionics – something for another post. Oh – and that thing sticking up above the dash is the Compass – also an important instrument!

There’s an irony not lost on most UK pilots that the RAF devised the Standard T shown above after a lot of research on the best layout of instruments. That was in the 1930’s and yet a lot of General Aviation aircraft were still being built with non-standard layouts up until the 1970’s Here is a 1966 model Piper PA28-140 panel…

Let me say from personal experience that this is not a one-off layout built on a Friday afternoon and that two aircraft from the same batch could be delivered with different layout dependent upon the avionics build requested. Our Cherokee 140 (a 1967 build) had her instruments all over the place like this but not in the same locations. Also note that I’ve hidden the control columns so you can easily see everything including the switches below. I think the best policy is to talk about each instrument in ‘T’ order so, the Air Speed Indicator is exactly where you should expect it to be. The Artificial Horizon has however been displaced to the right with the DI taking its place in the centre of the panel. In the centre of the panel where the DI would be is a clock – just about the least useful thing to put in a pilots central field of vision. The Altimeter has found itself displaced to the left and the VSI to the extreme left. The Turn and Slip is hiding down on the bottom left. As for the engine rev-counter – that’s over on the right and at a difficult angle to read correctly. The engine and fuel gauges are grouped quite well on the right but the vacuum gauge is again so far over that it’s difficult to read easily. And the compass? That’s actually in the panel on the extreme left at the top. This is a VFR build but many VFR builds were adapted for Instrument flying at a basic level. In our aircraft the compass was relocated to the central window pillar and the top left slot held a radio navigation instrument known as an ADF – perhaps more on that in another post. I seem to recall that the clock was replaced by the turn & Slip in our aircraft and another radio navigation instrument (VOR) took the place of the T&S occupied on this dash. And I’m sure that the Artificial Horizon and the DI were swapped in our Cherokee. By the way, that red blob in the centre of the dash is the Stall Warning Light. There was an audible warning too. Unless very close to the ground, a stall in a Cherokee 140 is a non-event unlike some other types 🙂 So now I’m off to do some General Handling of the Cherokee to remind me of her foibles compared with the Cessna 172SP. I suspect that a bit more skill will be needed to fly smoothly and execute a good approach and landing even in a computer sim!

PA28-140 Cherokee over Clacton

I hung up my pilots goggles and scarf figuratively speaking in 2003. With a young child I no longer had the spare time to disappear all day a couple of times a week. I sold my share in our faithful old Piper Cherokee 140 and still recall the sadness I felt as I handed the keys over to the new owner. I decided at the time that it was final and that I would not be returning to the skies. Most of my flight related gear went to charity or other pilots. I still have my License, my logbooks and, of all things, my Whiz-Wheel (circular flight planning slide-rule).

One thing leads to another or so it seems. Watching Truck Sim videos on YouTube, I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually stumble on videos of flight simulation programs. Back in the days when I was actually flying I tried out Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 and found it sadly wanting. About the only thing it was good for was practising instrument navigation. None of the visual cues I use for landing were present not least because the scenery was rudimentary. I suspect for non-pilots this was not an issue hence the popularity of the program, which continues to the present day with the latest FSX version.

I was watching a review of a new Ford LT9000 mod for American Truck Sim last week and the publisher’s next video was about a flight from Brisbane to Gold Coast using X-Plane 11. I was immediately impressed with what I saw and I went looking for other videos of X-Plane. After watching a few I was hooked – This modern flight sim is very realistic and looks great. So I bought it and I will now be flying aircraft as well as spaceships! The game comes with several aircraft installed ranging from the ubiquitous Cessna 172 and Boeing 747 to the esoteric Cirrus Vision SF50 light jet. I’m going to treat myself to a Cherokee 140 mod and I will be flying that aircraft a lot. But to start with here are some shots of the Cessna 172SP that comes with the game. They were taken on a local trip from Andrewsfield (where I was based) to the Thames and back.

Climbing out from Andrewsfield
Over the River Thames at Tilbury
Passing Hanningfield Reservoir
Finals to Land, Runway 27R

You can check out X-Plane 11 here.