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Can a blind person fly a plane?
The answer to this bizarre question would seem to be rather self-evident. Being a pilot is an inherently visual activity and there isn't a whole heck of a lot that anyone can do to really accommodate or adapt that. But there is a fellow in Abbotsford, BC who has come up with an ingenious way to give people who are blind at least a semblance of the experience of doing just that.
For years, Microsoft marketed a "game" called Microsoft Flight Simulator. The last edition (version 10, also known as Flight Simulator X) was released in 2006 and Microsoft has since discontinued the product. I put "game" in quotes because this is not your typical "game" -- there are, by and large, no enemies to kill, and specific objectives or missions are limited. For thousands of enthusiasts around the world, though, it represents a challenge. For flight simulation enthusiasts, the objective is self-evident: they want to become as "good" a pilot (at least in the virtual sense of the word) as they can. With numerous companies providing ultra-realistic add-on aircraft, worldwide scenery (eye candy), and a network of virtual airlines (e.g. Virtual Air Canada) and virtual air traffic controllers (who themselves spend hours upon hours learning how to do their virtual jobs) ... there's a whole world out there to explore. But what if you're blind?
A company based in Abbotsford, British Columbia (Pacific Feelings Media) started out in 2009 to find a way to make this possible. What they came up with is It's Your Plane -- a virtual co-pilot who can take voiced instructions and apply them to fly a plane from takeoff to touchdown (and even taxi to a gate). Of course whether this counts as "flying" depends on your perspective. True, you'll never develop stick-and-rudder skills or learn the delicate and not-so-delicate inputs needed to fly an approach on a windy day ... but you can learn a whole lot about aircraft operation, and how it all works together, nonetheless.
The Blind Pilot Mode enables those who are blind or visually impaired to fly most of the It's Your Plane (IYP) supported aircraft from pre-flight to shut down by using their voice. IYP's interactive virtual co-pilot (you can choose Mike or Michelle), listens to the blind pilot's commands, assists with any necessary manoeuvers to fly the aircraft, and performs functions such as positioning the aircraft at the beginning of the runway, auto performing take-offs, auto-landing the aircraft (both ILS and visual approaches), auto-taxiing to the gate, etc. The co-pilot also talks to and walks the pilot through any or all of the IYP flight checklists, which are slightly abbreviated versions of real checklists used by commercial and GA pilots.
There is an article on FlightSim.com that talks about this package and their experience adapting it for blind users. You can find more information on It's Your Plane (and how it can work for a blind user) at the Blind Pilot Support page, including MS Word versions of the user's manual.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Who wants to try it?