GCAS: Ground Collision Avoidance System

I am fooling around reconstructing my old Mac IIcx and I found my old joystick. I used it to play a lot of Falcon, an F-16 flight simulator. I played a lot of flight simulator games and Falcon was probably the best. I bet if I could get my IIcx running it would have Falcon on the disk and ready to fly.

One of the features of Falcon that is realistically modeled after the real F-16 is the GCAS, the Ground Collision Avoidance System. The flight computer continuously calculates if your current flight path intersects with the ground. If you are going to crash, a pleasant but insistent female voice shouts, “Pull up! Pull up!” It was thought that a female voice would catch the (predominantly male) pilots’ ears.

With a computer flight simulator, you get to try a lot of boneheaded flying stunts that you’d never try in a real plane. Real fighter pilots get millions of dollars of training, all you’ve got is a $39.95 flight sim, a brief manual, and lots of trial and error. You hear the GCAS a lot because you’re constantly pushing the envelope to learn what the plane can and can’t do. You chase around dogfighting, and you fly poorly and you get into a “maneuvering kill,” where you’re chasing someone and he is more agile and he can pull up and you can’t. Maybe you’re in a steep dive, going too fast and you haven’t got enough altitude to pull up in time. You can pull back on the joystick as hard as you can, but by the time the GCAS shouts “Pull up! Pull up!” you are already doomed to hit the ground.

I used to play Falcon when my girlfriend Susie was around, she’d be quietly reading a book or something, my Mac would be emitting soft whooshing flight sim sounds, and suddenly it would startle her by yelling “Pull up! Pull up!” One day I was playing the game, and she snuck up behind me and started shouting “Pull up! Pull up!” She sounded just like the GCAS and I just lost my focus and crashed the plane immediately. We both cracked up with laughter, I don’t think she thought her prank would be so successful.

So after that, once in a while Suzie would see me doing something stupid or something she didn’t like, she’d start yelling “Pull up! Pull up!” and I would just burst into laughter. She seemed to use it appropriately, sometimes I needed a little warning when I didn’t realize I was flying into the ground, even outside the flight sim.

Sometimes lately I feel like I am trying my hardest to pull up. The economy seems to be flying into the ground. People are working themselves to death in an attempt to keep flying. I know I’m working way too hard against way too difficult circumstances, it is hard to keep the old plane in the air. I can put on the afterburner for more power and it may only fly me into the ground quicker, or run me out of fuel faster. I need to pull up or I will crash. I am pulling back on the stick with all my might and it still seems like the ground is rushing up at me too quickly to recover.

Recently I’ve enjoyed watching the TV show Dogfights
, it has amazingly detailed computer graphic animations of famous dogfights and flying techniques. It’s like watching a movie with the best flight sim graphics ever, it reminded me of how much I loved flight sims. Much to my surprise, they showed a few maneuvers that will avoid a collision even after the GCAS says it’s too late. Some of the greatest dogfights depend on these maneuvers, the thinnest margin of error in a crazy stunt means victory or a crater in the ground. Just a very few maneuvers will allow you to snap vector, slow rapidly, and recover a viable flight path that points up instead of down. And you have to be a pretty skilled pilot to pull off such a stunt. Even the most skilled pilot can easily fly himself into a corner he can’t fly out of. But a great pilot is always pushing the envelope, constantly pushing himself to the brink of disaster, that is The Right Stuff.

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