It was Saturday morning and Aidan Tidings, a middle-schooler, was flying 800 feet over the Mohawk River, his hands firmly grasping the yoke of a Beechnut King Air. He was flying upside down and there was no co-pilot. He thought aloud that his passengers were probably about ready to vomit.
“If I don’t lose consciousness in a couple seconds everyone else will,” he said.
Tidings said he learned to fly upside down from “Grand Theft Auto,” the popular open-world video game that allows you to, among other things, hijack all manner of vehicles -- including planes.
“Once you’re upside down the controls become inverted,” he said.
He was politely asked to right the plane and land it at Schenectady County Airport. A click of the mouse by Gary Gershon with the Empire State Aerosciences Museum and the King Air was lined up for a slow descent to a successful -- if a bit bumpy -- landing.
Tidings was flying the plane from the library at Schalmont Middle School, where Gershon spent the morning giving students a try on a pair of the museum’s flight simulators. The rig was simple, just a monitor hooked up to a computer, but the simulator came with a realistic retracting yoke and throttle control. There were also dials on the monitor showing vital information like airspeed and altitude.
Gershon walked the students through taking off, flying around in the airspace above Schenectady, and landing the plane. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Gershon said he conceived of bringing the simulators to the school in order to promote the museum and its programs.
“We need more PR,” he said. “Too many people are just driving by.”
Gershon was referring to the museum’s headquarters at the Schenectady County Airport, where they feature a dozen or so aircraft exhibits that are used to educate people on aviation and the science behind it. The museum also holds off-site educational programs, tours, and contains a public research library containing historical and technical aeroscience-related information.
Gershon said there’s a shortage of commercial pilots, and his other goal is to get students interested in aviation from a young age.
“It’s fascinating to learn how to fly,” said Schalmont student Nick Castiglione, after two turns on the simulator. “You could fly out to a whole bunch of different airports, if I could buy the game I would.”
Lorenzo Tiscione was trying out the simulator and asked Gershon, “is this an app?”
“It’s a simulator!” Gershon told Tiscione, who was locked on the monitor in concentration. “His face, look at him.”
Tiscione was lining up for a landing, coming in a bit sharp. Gershon told him to pull up a bit. The plane bounced off the runway twice, the left engine pouring smoke.
“That’s all right, any landing you walk away from is a good landing,” Gershon said, repeating the old pilot’s adage.