I kinda wish I had showed more love to my Atari. I grew up in the pinball era, so aside from some sporadic Pac Man and Space Invaders action, that Atari I had as youth played dust collector while I shelled out my hard-earned paper route quarters at the arcade. Plus part of me has always thought video games were more of a substitute for the real thing. Why sit on a couch and pretend when you can be outside doing the real thing?

So how did my “real thing” helicopter lesson start? By playing a video game of course. There’s irony in there somewhere.

Okay so it wasn’t exactly a video game, it was a top-of-the-line flight simulator, complete with foot pedals, throttle, and cyclic — that fancy looking joystick in the center. It’s pretty much the Rolls Royce of video games. See why I kinda wish I had paid more attention to that Atari?

Rotor F/X out of Fullerton, California offers an introductory helicopter flight lesson designed both for those that want to see if a career in aviation is right for them, and for looky-loos like me who just want to check it off their manly bucket list.

My instructor took me through a pretty intensive instruction that included a safety briefing, the inner workings of a helicopter, and a nifty military video from the 1970s that explained something I can’t quite recall, but seemed very important at the time.

The helicopter we’d be flying is a Robinson R22 Beta II, which unlike the flight simulator, is pretty much the Mini Cooper of helicopters. I was surprised by how small the thing was. But considering it was my first go (and I crashed in the video game about 17 times) I can see why they weren’t going to put me in a Black Hawk straight out of the gate.

The simulator was a pretty realistic representation of the real deal — right down to the landscape and flight path we’d be covering around Fullerton. I don’t remember there being this much traffic though.

Since I only had a couple of hours of instruction under my belt (and 17 simulated crashes), my instructor took care of take-off and landing. I did get to take the controls once we were airborne though. That cyclic thingy is much more sensitive than I imagined, and I while I had a tendency to over-adjust when turning left or right (I’m certain there’s a much more technical term for that), it was such a rush to even think that I was actually flying the thing.

If they had video games like this when I was a kid, I doubt that Atari would’ve seen so much dust.