bovineone and cowquat and I left bright and early last wednesday for Denver. Perhaps it should have been a bit earlier, because we sort of forgot about early morning traffic and showed up to the airport a bit late, but walked right onto the plane just before the final boarding call.
After arriving in Denver, we met up with Dave Avery (daa from distributed.net) who works at the United Airlines training facility in Denver. He graciously took a few hours out of his day to show us around the facility, which mostly consists of a lot of simulators. Dave knows everything about these systems, as he is one of the technicians who keeps them running, and some of them are old (expected service lifetime is 30 years - we even saw one system with a paper tape boot loader!).
For those of you who may not be familiar with the concept, an airplane simulator is an exact replica of an airplane cockpit, right down to the identical switches, instruments, displays, and controls. The "external" view out the window shows a very realistic computer generated display of what a pilot would see outside a real airplane. The whole thing, with room for about five or six people, is mounted on huge hydraulic legs that move the simulator in a way that approximates the motion pilots would feel in a real plane. To even compare these devices with something like Microsoft Flight Simulator would be sacrilege.
Most of the simulators were in use by real pilots for real training, but there was one (a Boeing 777) that was reserved for engineering department use. Which means we got to play with it! (See Jeff's pictures.) I won't bore you with the details, but I got to do taxi, takeoff, landing, stalls, aileron rolls, engine fire simulation, and all kinds of fun stuff. When Dave simulated a fire in the left engine while I was messing around at 9000 feet over Los Angeles, I managed to get the plane on the ground but veered way off the runway because the left gear failed to deploy and the nose gear collapsed on landing.
Flying the simulator was easily the most fun I've had in a long time. Thanks Dave!
The remaining days (thursday through saturday), all we did was ski. Ok, that's understating it a bit, let me try again: For the next three days we had a great time skiing in fantastic conditions at Copper Mountain.
Going into the trip, I had myself convinced that the cards were stacked against me with respect to being able to actually ski. I was just recovering from a nasty cold that had me stuffed up and headachey for a week; the base of the mountain is over 9000 feet altitude with the peak at about 12000 feet (for comparison, when flying an airplane, supplemental oxygen is required at altitudes over 12500 feet for more than 30 minutes); and I am somewhat out of shape in the endurance department. However, luck smiled on me and my cold cleared up; the altitude didn't bother me (probably spending a day in Denver helped); and I guess I'm in better shape than I thought.
We had great conditions each day. On thursday it was snowing on and off all day, on friday we had about 4 inches of new snow in the morning, on saturday it was much windier at the top but nothing that more clothes couldn't handle. The snow was very dry and powdery, much lighter than the wetter snow I'm used to on the west coast.
For those three days, we didn't do much else. Like my mom says, "eat, sleep, and ski". That pretty much sums it up.