Some Days You Eat The Bear, Some Days The Bear Eats You
By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose"
if you know Erik Lindbergh, you know that you don't often see
him sitting still. To see Erik plunked down at a computer screen,
with a serious look on his face, in place of the
Gonna-Fly-The-Rocket grin he usually wears these days, is a most
"What's up, Erik?"
"He beat me." I realized then that this was the four-seat Rocket
Racing race simulator, a preview of the forthcoming video game.
This prototype will be touring to selected events to promote the
Rocket Racing League.
I looked around to see who had beaten Erik. I knew Rick Searfoss
was tied up with the EZ-Rocket, and I haven't seen Sean Tucker all
weekend. Jim wasn't here either, so I scratched my head. Not many
other rocket pilots around, except for Shuttle astronauts, who seem
to be here in force.
In fact, the people at the other stations were mostly kids.
"Who beat you, Erik?"
"Him." He pointed at a young pilot indeed. And demanded a
rematch. Apparently Erik came in a hard-fought second to his young
opponent. There were several minutes while the contest was set-up
-- again, this is very early software with incomplete features and
perhaps a few bugs.
The young man's name was Gal and he took the game pretty
seriously. Two other players took the other seats -- a young
CAP cadet, and an adult lady -- and the race was on.
The game is exciting, even in this crude preliminary version. In
the definitive version, highway-in-the-sky graphics should guide
pilots around the course. In this preliminary one, you get red
arrows. They're homely but they serve the purpose, for now.
The course -- like a real Rocket Racing League course -- is a
three-dimensional virtual racetrack. Like race drivers on a Grand
Prix road course, pilots face turns of varying directions, radii,
and rates of change. But Rocket Racing throws in "up" and "down."
Some of the markings are large, air-safe pylons; others are virtual
markings which appear on the racecraft's Heads-Up Display and on
televisions (including the onsite Jumbotron) by using the same
technology that is used to show the 10-yard-line in football.
Pilots see the world through a heads-up display, on the screen,
and control their virtual airplanes with side sticks and throttles.
The course had Eric, Gal and the others banking hard and zooming
and diving to follow the arrows and pass through the gates.
In this multiplayer game, the players compete head to head. If
you overtake an opponent, you see his plane (and vice-versa). The
game, like the rocket planes, moves very fast and the racers' heart
rates get elevated
"How'd I do, how'd I do?" Erik asked. He knew, really; he'd seen
the smoke trails of other rocket planes passing him. He was second;
and Gal was first.
In a post-race interview, Erik told Aero-News that he attributed
his loss to rusty flying skills on this specific type. "I'm not
current on video games!" He praised Gal's skill, while laughing at
himself. And yes, he remains very excited about being selected to
fly the rocket racers. "I've started a program to get into better
shape," Erik said. "I think I need to be in the best shape
possible, to compete with these guys."
After Erik departed, Aero-News had a chance to interview the
"Did you know who that was, the guy you just beat?"
"No. Who was he?"
"Erik Lindbergh -- one of the real rocket pilots."
"How old are you, Gal?"
So the good news for Erik is that he has seven years to hone his
skills before he faces Gal mano a mano in rocket competition --
that's how long it will be before Gal is eligible for the mandatory
commercial pilot's license.