Bust stress, conquer sky — the virtual way (Lead) (Feature with images)

July 20th, 2011 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) Vaibhava Srinivasan, 33, was flying a Boeing 737 aircraft over the picturesque Himalayan mountain range on his way to China, when he had to suddenly cut short his sortie for an urgent board meeting at office.

No, he wasn’t daydreaming.

On weekdays, the Bangalorean works as a chartered accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, but on weekends, he brings out the aviator in him and ‘flies’ all kinds of jetliners all over the world with the help of a software — Microsoft Flight Simulator. The software, priced at $40 (Rs.1,700), commands the lion’s share in the virtual flying software market.

“This software is for enthusiasts and has been constantly upgraded over the years. It provides you a virtual experience of flying a jet and is easily available at any electronic gadget or video game shop,” Srinivasan told IANS over phone.

Srinivasan, in fact, went one step further by installing a Boeing 737 cockpit at his home with hardware and software procured from various countries over a period of two years. The cockpit boasts of an imitation panel, yoke, throttle quadrant, multi-functional displays, auto-pilot and auto throttle panels and original captain seats.

“After slugging the whole week I need an effective stress-buster on weekends to relax and the simulator is just the perfect solution. In fact, many of my friends often visit my place just to lay their hands on it,” he quipped.

Srinivasan may be an extreme case, but budding aviators can also consider software like X-Plane, which costs around $25-40, depending on the features one opts for.

Siddharth Chowdhri, who owns The English Book Store in central Delhi’s upscale commercial complex Connaught Place, says flight simulator software and hardware like yoke and throttle quadrant are some of the best selling items of his shop.

“Over the years, our clientele has changed. Earlier, most of our customers of such software were students training to become pilots, but now enthusiasts have also started thronging our shop,” he told IANS.

“Many of the stuff are directly imported from the UK and US,” he added.

Virtual flying enthusiasts also have another option — the International Virtual Aviation Organisation (IVAO), the biggest non-profit community of virtual flyers and air traffic controllers, based in Belgium.

“IVAO provides a platform for virtual pilots and air traffic controllers from across the globe with real time data on weather and traffic conditions of the destination that you are headed towards,” said Srinivasan, who is also IVAO’s director of public relations.

After a free registration at IVAO, one can download software for pilots or air traffic controllers and get started immediately.

Agreed Sanket Deshpande, a media professional from Mumbai, who termed the experience as “out of this world.”

“Once you start flying, it’s difficult to believe that it is just a simulation. The most amazing thing is that you can interact with fellow pilots who are flying with you in the virtual airspace,” the 26-year-old told IANS.

Delegated with the responsibility of coordinating operations of air traffic control and new members joining IVAO, Deshpande said 25-30 enthusiasts are joining them every month.

“The age group usually wavers between 16 and 45. We also have retired air force pilots as our members,” said Deshpande, who is in the process of building a cockpit at home.

Another online virtual flying network is the US-based Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM)

“Although both the organisations are equally large, VATSIM has more American users whereas IVEO boasts of more Europeans and Indians,” said Srinivasan.

Some also say the flight simulators can be the first step towards a career as a pilot or an air traffic controller.

“The problem in India is that parents think that it is just another video game and discourage their kids from using it, whereas it can very well be a beginning for a kid to shape his career as a pilot,” Hyderabad-based Ajit Menon, a sales manager with Dell, told IANS.

“Although it’s a rage in the West, it is growing at an equally healthy rate here,” added Menon, 40, who claims to have more than 2,000 hours of virtual flying under his belt.

Menon’s views were corroborated by 32-year-old Rohit Dalaya, a captain with Air India, who admits that it was his hours spent flying virtually which egged him on to realise his dream of becoming a pilot.

“I started using the flight simulator in my college days way back in 1996. Although I did my training from the US, the simulator played a major role in helping me achieve my goal,” said Dalaya, who has been flying with the national carrier for more than 10 years.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at rahul.v@ians.in)

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