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Ever wanted to be a Playmonaut? El Reg's Vulture 2 spaceplane sim reveals what it's like

Our Tennessee X-Plane ace sets up virtua-ballocket shot

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Last month, we put out call for an X-Plane Plane-Maker bod to enter into a simulating relationship with our Vulture 2 spaceplane team.

Straight out of the blocks was Billy Bargagliotti of Memphis, Tennessee, who enthusiastically emailed he'd be delighted to get involved with the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission. As a retired pilot - "commercial, instrument, single engine land, single engine sea and multiengine land licences" - with a rack of X-Plane projects under his belt, Billy appeared to have the Right Stuff for the job, and so it turned out.

We provided Billy with aircraft plans, weight, etc, plus details of our planned rocket motor reload, and let him get on with it. Here's the progress to date, with the Vulture 2 mounted to a provisional "launch rod" (see details on our fantastical flying truss launch structure here)...

The Vulture 2 as seen in X-Plane

...and here's the view from cockpit, as it will be seen in real life by our dauntless Playmonaut as he rides the Vulture 2 up through balloon ascent and then fiery rocket boost before the desperate flight down from the very edge of space:

The view from the Vulture 2 cockpit during ascent

The way it works is this: You ramp up the balloon lift using the lever on the right, rise majestically to altitude, cut the balloon lift and press the rocket motor fire button (directly to the left of the lever), having of course first flipped up the safety cover.

While the ascent view appears to have the aircraft horizontal, it's actually a vertical lift-off. The launch rod is simulated as a drop tank, which detaches on ignition.

What happens next is highly entertaining, and includes redout for the benefit of our plucky Playmonaut, just so he's got some idea of what awaits him:

Redout in the cockpit view as the Vulture pulls out of a dive

By the time you've recovered from the post-thrust rollercoaster ride, and found yourself with your boots facing heavenwards...

Virtually inverted aircraft shortly after rocket ignition

...you've got two options: recover the aircraft yourself or let the autopilot (FLIGHT DIR) do the work. In this case, with it switched to "ON" it provides guidance in the head-up display (HUD):

The cockpit view as the aircraft is back under control

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