(What I wrote for my newspaper, the original):
Today, on the second day of Aero India 2009, I flew a Gripen combat aircraft. I must say, it was not too tough, the pilot Jonas Jeppsson explains the basics and once in the cockpit, it's just a matter of pulling the joy stick and I make the sky my destination. "Have you done this before?" is the first question. What do I know about flying? Nothing. But once in the SAAB Gripen cockpit simulator at the show, it is only about a few buttons here and a series of mysterious numbers all around showing the position, the altitude, the route, the target, the speed and other incomprehensive things.
The feel of the flight begins just as I step into the cockpit, two steps and a hop in. As I settle down, Jeppsson begins to explain, half of it is beyond me. Then soon, I position the fighter aircraft and it begins to cruise the runway. The speed picks up and somewhere from behind, I hear the roar of an aircraft. Or maybe it was just one of the real ones outside, making a sortie. The pilot releases a lever and I pull up the joy stick and the GS 39 CD flies away, not too straight, but at high speeds nevertheless.
I am soon at 7 G pressure, in a real life scenario, I could have, without the required training, heard my bones virtually crush due to the pressure. On earth, what we see is just one G.
I see the green fields below me, some fudged piece of the land far below. As I get a grip, Jeppsson makes me turn a loop and I am soon flying the wrong side up. And then I begin to cruise over a water body and just then, a wrong move and I am about to crash, a red line shows up. The pilot steadies something and the Gripen is back on track.
Now, this was one of the real combat ones. On the left side is the electronic warfare system, the altitude, speed meters and the route and position in the middle screen and radar details on the other side. Another pilot explains that if there was a target to be followed, that would show on one of the screens too. Triumphantly, I climb out from the cockpit. That wasn't too bad. But then, I did not have to think about the speed and the altitude or make sense of all those strange numbers. Pilot Jeppsson was there for that. And I am sure it is not all fun for him, upon the real skies.
And this is how a real Gripen combat aircraft would look like: