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Episode 14: Creative Crisis
This was a pivotal time in the Moving Axis AirCraft Simulator experiment, I had to
make a difficult decision.
I remember the first time I saw this video clip. The machine is working more or
less the way it's supposed to - however, as an observer on the outside looking at
the simulator from this perspective, you really expect to see it tilt or roll from side to
Well, that was a problem. The very first MAACS prototypes actually did move in two
axis - the pitch axis and the roll axis - rolling left and right. I did not like how it felt
when the machine rolled from side to side, it felt like you were going to fall out of
your seat....and you just don't feel that way when you turn an airplane.
When you turn a real airplane in a coordinated turn you don't find yourself leaning
against the door, like in a car. The airplane, the airplane itself, is banked into the
turn, so you're pressed into you're seat. You learn that in the early stages of flight
So rolling motion in a flight simulator does not feel accurate, but how important is
that really? Most people aren't pilots and won't even know or care if it doesn't feel
100% accurate.....they just expect the machine to tilt left and right, regardless of
how it feels. That's a valid issue.
Plus something else happened about this same time. It made me question what
the goal of a motion flight simulator should be - realism or just an enjoyable
I took a friend and her two children on a scenic flight above the city. The kids were
about 10 yrs old and 12 yrs old. They were excited because this was their first
time flying in an airplane. Two kids, a boy and a girl. It was the boy's birthday.
The weather was good that morning - it was just a little warm and just a little
choppy, but not bad at all.
So we took off and after just a few minutes one of the kids was feeling airsick and
I got out the sick-sacs for everyone and turned back toward the airport.
I didn't have official airsickness bags, but I did have zip-lock bags. I thought those
would be good because you can just seal up the top. Well it wasn't a great idea
because zip-lock bags are clear and you get to see in vivid detail the former
contents of your stomach. Both kids....really like orange juice.
Anyway, we landed, both kids were fine after a drink of water and a breath mint.
Why do I tell you this story? The experience those kids had was 100% real.......and
So at this point in the MAACS experiment I said, screw it! I'm going to make a
simulator that moves in both the pitch axis and the roll axis, even though it won't
feel 100% real.
But, there was another problem. I had been working on MAACS all summer, I
spent way too much time and way too much money developing it, and I had
people (stakeholders, supporters) that needed to see results. If I was to take
MAACS back to the drawing board again, I felt like it would do serious harm to their
morale. I felt like everyone would lose faith in the project.
So, I went forward with MAACS with its existing control configuration: one moving
axis. And I moved to the next stage: make it look like an airplane, and bring it up
from the basement and out into the world.