My First Solo

Laura Laban

Programmer Laura Laban paid for her flight training by building aeroplane add-ons and scenery packages for flight simulators.

How did you get into aviation?

In the late 1990s, my brother owned a copy of Microsoft Flight Sim 5 which I ended up playing. I really got into it and when I got my own PC, I started playing flight sims and creating add-ons. A bloke who used one of the scenery packages I built offered me a flight over Lyon and that’s when I got the bug – after landing I knew I wanted to fly for real. It’s also a natural progression, as many flight sim players end up becoming pilots.

How did your flight training go?

The instructor on my intro flight wasn’t very jovial. Back in the clubhouse, my dad spotted Georges Pernet who looked nicer. Georges was great – I was his last student before he moved to Papua New Guinea to do humanitarian flying. He really had to force me to look outside the cockpit and to focus on the rudder pedals, but overall my flight sim experience was beneficial to learning the real thing. I paid for my lessons by selling sim scenery packages.

“Mix the passion for programming and for aviation – and you’ve got a flight sim programmer”

What was your first solo like?

It happened early in my training and I only did one landing. I don’t remember much about it. Shortly afterwards I switched flying clubs and continued my training in a PA-28. I remember being very frustrated that it took a month before I was allowed to solo in that aircraft. Probably because it was a little nose-heavy and I had a tendency to do three-point landings… When it finally happened, that first flight alone in the Piper felt like a first solo all over again. 

What motivated the development of Infinite Flight?

It’s always been my dream to develop a flight sim. Mix a passion for programming with a passion for aviation, shake it, and you’ve got a flight sim programmer. I started working with flight sims and coding around the time I got interested in becoming a pilot. In 2004, four years after my PPL training, I started creating Infinite Flight as my hobby project.

Do you consider Infinite Flight a game or a flight training aid?

It’s a hybrid. It really depends on the person using it. Some use it for training – I sometimes use it to plan my flights in unfamiliar areas – whereas others play it just for fun. For me, flight sims were a gateway into aviation. Many Infinite Flight users have also told us it was a stepping stone to learning to fly for real.

You’ve transitioned, what have your experiences been in the aviation community since?

Apart from the bureaucratic struggle to get certificates in my new name, it’s mostly been OK. There have been people at air shows continually addressing their technical questions to non-developer male members of the team instead of me, so at Oshkosh in 2019 my name tag said ‘Laura, CEO’, which helped. The advantage of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? I never have to push my aeroplane out of the hangar by myself…

You’ve bought a CubCrafters XCub, how are you enjoying it?

It’s a really cool aircraft – powerful, pretty, comfortable and super fun to fly! After flying it across the US, I shipped it to Europe where I’m hoping to meet up with other taildragger enthusiasts. There’s only one other XCub in France, so it attracts attention – I make new friends everywhere I fly. After years of living in California and New York, I’m currently getting re-acquainted with the complexities of the French flying ecosystem. Compared to the US, everything is a bit more complicated here. There’s no chance of flying over Paris, for example, and they’re more verbose on the radio.

What do you love about flying most?

The mental challenge. Apart from beautiful sights, freedom, and the joy of nailing a good landing, flying is also an exercise in humility. For example when coming back into the hangar and thinking, ‘Why was this switch on the entire flight?’. Or when making a mistake on the radio. Every flight, there’s always something I could have done better. Flying trains you to plan carefully and to improvise when things don’t go as planned.

Solo stats

CEO and co-founder of Infinite Flight, Laura Laban has developed a mobile sim experience app.

 

 

When 12 August 2000
Where Lyon-Bron Airport
Aircraft Cessna 172
Hours at solo 10
Hours now Approx. 830
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