Sunday, December 12, 2010

More iPod Shuttle (Landing Tips)

I'm still obsessed with F-SIM Space Shuttle on the iPod Touch. Now that I'm a seasoned pro with some 10 hours (!) of flight time and at least one "good" landing (with 26 "safe" landings, 54 "hard" landings, and an embarrassing number of crash landings), here are a few things I've learned along the way. While it may seem odd that someone with such a poor record and slow learning curve has the audacity to offer landing tips to others, here's the thing: I've made these mistakes enough times to notice what they are, and if you can avoid some of them as a result, you'll be ahead of the game. This only applies to "final approach" landings. I've done a few full HAC approaches, but I still really suck at those, so too soon to give tips.
  1. Read the "help" landing tutorial and watch a few Autoland demos, paying careful attention to the flight path marker (FPM) and approach cues in the HUD (the tutorial explains these with pictures). After you've landed a few times, also read the landing notes in part 2 of the help - good tips, but you'll need some experience to recognize them.
  2. If you don't let the FPM get far from where it should be (and you shouldn't), the range of tilt and rotation motions you need is very small. The iPod Touch is so light, it's very easy to make motions you don't want that can really throw off your approach. I find I have to brace my elbows against my body and cradle the iPod carefully to keep it steady and in balance. And have my eyes very close to the screen.
  3. Make very small adjustments, and don't ever let the FPM get far from the guidance diamond or the flare cues (small triangles).
  4. Get lined up with the runway center line right away, and keep it lined up. I always try to do this but still sometimes end up off-center when I'm below 500 feet (maybe cross wind?). Sometimes I can correct this, but it's bad to have to try and I often fail. You don't see the real shuttle banking around on short final - you should be wings-level once you are below 1000 feet.
  5. The FPM shows where the shuttle is heading. If you let it get above the horizon when you flare, you will gain altitude and will probably have trouble with line-up (a slow shuttle doesn't have great control authority) or a soft enough landing.
  6. You seem to get more "good landing" credit for landing in the 200' touchdown zone than for being on-centerline. My one "good landing" was in the zone but somewhat off-center for 187,000 points. My best "safe" landing was 370,000 points and was well centered, but outside the landing zone.
  7. If you use "tilt" for brakes (rather than manual brakes which is an option), once the nose wheel touches down, tilting forward provides more braking. But don't do it right away lest you slam the nose wheel down too hard.
The picture above is an animated GIF (might have to click on it) of an Autoland demo at KSC at night, passing through clouds (not real time - just captured frames at 0.8 sec intervals). I love that effect, when the KSC ground lights pop out as you pass through the cloud deck (very quickly and steeply, 20 degree approach, remember) . This is a great little sim. Reminds of the old days (~2000) when I used to land a simulated F/A-18 Super Hornet on a carrier at night in Jane's F/A-18 flight sim. I wasn't very good at that either, but it was also fun. I'm glad I was better at landing real Cessna 152's (when I was flying a few years ago) than I've been at landing simulated Hornets and space shuttles. Guess it helps to have your life on the line! And to be approaching at 67 knots rather than 150 to 300 knots.

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